A Little Perspective Feed

154. Where's the Sake?

Do you remember the old tv commercial of the two old women?  The one where they walk into a burger joint and start complaining when served?  Where they ask over and over again, “Where’s the beef?”  What a great commercial that was as it dealt with paying for something that you the customer didn’t get.

Last year pre-Hurricane Harvey flood (that 6 months later still has the entire city disrupted) we were engaged in a study of all the martial arts dojo in Houston that we could find, looking at classes, web page design, instructor qualifications, pictures of pretty uniforms, mascots, action photos, videos, cat videos, etc.  You know.  Standard web kinda' material.  Pretty normal for any small business when you are looking to prep’ for the New Year and getting things in gear.

So here I’m cruising the web like a boss-beach bum.  Surfing and clicking and hanging 12 and humming old sailor shanties when suddenly I’m taken aback at one site.  “No Throwing Aikido Classes” the web site says, right next to “Aikido for Children”.

So I hike up my Birdwell’s and turn my Hobie (er .. ah .. mouse) around and spend some time researching this idea.  There it was and I hadn’t mis-read the page titles.

The site for this “other dojo” clearly said “Child-Safe Aikido” and “No Throwing Adult Aikido Classes”.  Wow, thought I.  How interesting.  How progressive.  How forward-looking.

WTH?  How can you proclaim yourself to be the "premiere Aikido school in town" and not teach how to throw; not to mention watering it all down to make it "child friendly".  

In our blog series that’s gone on some 10 years or so by now, I’ve made observations on ideas inherent in martial arts training such as; you get out of it what you put into it, look for practical training, look for a dojo that won’t destroy you but that will teach you, find competent instructors, seek honesty in training philosophy, look for true Bushido.  There are more than just these few but bottom line is, if you are looking for martial arts then find those and don't settle for second-best.

If you are looking to lose weight then do so, and if you are looking for Kabuki Theater or Comicon fantasy role play then look for that also.  Just be sure to find what you want and if you are the Sensei, be honest in how you present your curriculum.  No one should have any issue with you training the way you want as long as you are presented the full and honest picture right up front and are happy with the package (and price) you are buying.

The idea that you can present a full-scale Aikido curriculum as being a valid study of Bushido but not have any throwing involved (go watch some Ueshiba videos one day and watch for the “no throwing” uke around  .. HA! .. lol) and therefore have no break falling involved (ummmm …. doesn’t throwing automatically suggest “falling” may also be involved) strikes a professional Bushi as simultaneously dangerous and a severe form of martial arts malpractice.

Many years ago at my old dojo, the Sensei who was a Japanese-trained stickler for precision in teaching and performance had two deshi; one, a pretty senior black belt and the other, a lower-level black belt.  They had the idea of starting up an Aikido-based exercise program.  I can’t remember the marketing name they copyrighted so let’s just call it “Sweaty Aikido Exercises for Non-Aikido People Wanting to Lose Weight”.

And that’s what it was.  They did it outside the dojo and never told Sensei about it.  Heck.  None of us knew about but to be honest, when I heard of it I was a little jealous thinking what a great idea of a way to apply martial arts (which we all loved) to teach a little something to folks who otherwise would never be exposed to any Budo at all.  Had my liking.  Might even get some new players out of it.

Once Sensei found out about it however, he went … how to put this … apoplectic, berserk, insane, he was beyond upset, all of the above, and few more.

His point was this.  Once you do the motions of any particular waza a sufficient number of times, you will eventually and in spite of yourself, blow uke out of his fundoichi because for that one moment in time everything worked exactly the way it was designed to.  So the longer they train, the more rep’s they put in, the greater the likelihood that they would hit the sweet spot and uke would be smashed senseless, unless they knew how to correctly break fall.

So put another way, a Sensei who runs a dojo should not bill any class as “No Throwing Aikido” where Aikido techniques are taught and practiced but in which players are not required to learn a full range of dynamic ukemi.  Conversely, if ukemi are not taught and described as “optional” then the description of the class should instead be changed to something like “Exercise Class Using Aikido-Type Ideas But Not Real Martial Arts” and then, modify any Aikido technique to the point to where it couldn’t work even if Ueshiba tried it.

Bottom line is that if you teach Aikido in any form, then actually teach Aikido including the break fall skills so if anyone is thrown even if by accident then they will be (and will land on the mat) safe.  Don’t claim to be teaching Aikido and leave out what could be the most important part.  That is quite and simply unethical marketing and martial malpractice by any name and after they are injured on your mat they just might be asking, "Where's the Sake?" as they wave at you out of the back of the rickshaw on the way to the hospital.

See you on the mat.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX

January 2018

153. Obstacles To Emptying the Tea Cup

I’m not a psychologist but I do play one on TV; or so the saying goes.  However, after training in the martial arts for almost 50 years (since high school) and running my own dojo for the last 20, I’ve had the “opportunity” to watch a lot of disturbing tendencies in prospective players who visit the dojo, some of whom actually passed the initial screening and were on the mat for a time before leaving (or being invited to leave).

Some, a few, not all that many but a noticeable number of prospective deshi walk in the door with an innate belief (if only on a subconscious level and not even in the front of their mind) that the mere possession of testicles (along with a carry permit and a game boy controller) makes them skilled drivers, lovers, and street fighters.  From a practical (and coldly) analytical view of the Budo-verse we know that this is fantasy and simply not the case in spite of how low they lower their voices to growl, “I’ll be back ….. and will start next week”.

Driving a car with too-loud mufflers (that for the world reminds me of an angry bumble bee) and claims to stud-status (“Yo, Adrian”) are topics best left for another day; but the street fighting/martial arts aspect is too obvious to pass up.  I am supposed to be blogging on martial arts, right?

Yes, there are natural athletes. You have dealt with them all of your life and we all remember that guy in high school who lettered in every sport he ever tried out for, generally made team captain, dated the head cheer leader, and who may have been known for pushing Casper up against his locker during the lunch break in the quest for King of the Hallway status during lunch break.

The natural athlete (sports) argument aside, humans are not “natural” martial artists in that high-level physical abilities dealing with potentially life & death scenarios are very much learned skill sets.  I have yet to see a 6 year old who was fully able to intuitively cobble together (and correctly work) a hein kata, a Tai Chi long set, or a decent wrist lock. 

These skills are taught, learned, practiced, and ingrained intuitively only with innumerable hours of practice under a qualified instructor.  Anything less is simply giving the kid a hammer and telling him to sit in the corner and beat on a block of wood, expecting him to somehow come up with an antique roll top desk made out of cross-cut oak.

Yeah.  Yeah.  Yeah.  Just stop it.  I’ve already heard the argument that so-and-so is a natural and has won every fight he was ever in back in high school. 

Keep it to yourself.  That’s little more than mental masturbation with some rationalization thrown in for good measure.  The issue behind that proclamation is the underlying and unmentioned fact that somewhere along the line someone probably offered instruction that he could integrate well enough for a couple of tricks that no one else had seen, or was taught that one punch that works against most or, he was just in so many fights as a young and belligerent walking hormone that he learned a few tricks the hard way, or he’s just a big guy and overwhelms everyone, a sign of genetically gifted size and not necessarily of any true martial ability.

So basically, everyone needs training but an issue here is that due to cultural trends combined with technology we have today bred into men a false ego, a specious external facade that somehow they can succeed without any real effort.  This is the fault of the “everyone gets a trophy” religion, combined with the lack of any sense of responsibly.  It’s “just supposed to be that way” after all.  Compound that with high-tech allowing many young people to exist in a fantasy world, then taking that fantasy with them outside the screen or 3-D goggles and attempting to interface with others and now that false view of “self” is what is communicated.

Now take that one step further, into the dojo where the Sensei gets strange questions about what is and is not possible or what “secret techniques” the student claims to have knowledge of.  I actually had a young man walk into the dojo not all that long ago, get past the initial screening interview since he seemed sincere and then once on the mat he began to talk about whether we taught this or that technique and that he had “seen” a technique that really worked well and he wanted to learn it.

After some questioning, it turned out that he had a video game addiction (my extrapolation of his comments) and the techniques he was asking about (or claiming knowledge of) were things he had seen on the screen in “Secret Samurai Killers From Planet 9 meet the Godzilla Corps” or from a movie on Netflix that he had binged watched; him thinking that all the silliness on the screen was actually based on real ideas and real martial arts.  He was expecting us to know what he “knows” which only served to make him an irritant.  He was invited to train elsewhere.

He was unable to tell the difference and somehow thought that he could translate his “game knowledge” to actual “martial arts ability” with minimal work and was seemingly unable to break with his preconceived notions and be “re-taught” what is and what is not.

These individuals, aside from being lied to by our cultural trends have been instructed (taught) by insidious outside forces (e.g., our current culture at large) and they believe that if someone does in fact ask them to put forth extra effort or to change their current paradigm and learn something new (or if you dare to point out their short-comings or that they are the ones out of line) they bristle and instead of considering the Sensei’ comments as an indication of the need for them to change their ideas and accept the need for retraining, the conversation becomes one of “How dare you tell me I’m not good enough or that I need to work harder?” even though that was not the specifics of what you were attempting to communicate.

Modern men (and women who have interest in martial training) have been conditioned to accept mediocrity as the norm, and that their opinion about a subject is more important than whether or not they can actually perform the task.  They hide in their “Man Cave” playing Xbox thinking they are manly and when called on it and required to "make scratch", become argumentative.

The false ego generated by all the talk and supposition drives modern man to actually avoid professional training.  If they take that big step and attend a course or go to a school they risk having all their pre-disposed notions shattered.  They might discover to their great displeasure that they aren’t actually good martial artists, good at self-defense, and that their favorite bokken is not actually akin to Thor’s Hammer.  And yes, before you ask, I’ve actually had people walk into the dojo with their personalized wooden (or fiberglass bokken), tell me that they’ve been practicing in their garage with friends and then try to show me what they “know” with their having little to no actual dojo time.  All that conversation ceased the moment I picked up my bokken and told them to leave (sometimes it just gets to the point of "too much conversation").

Having been raised in a society that embraces mediocrity and excuses failure, these egos can’t risk the blow.  Their solution is to simply buy more expensive gear and run out to apply for their Concealed Carry Permit and begin to engage everyone they meet with discourses on the best caliber, best carry rigs, ballistics, or what technique they saw in UFC 1,967 work the best and how so-and-so MMA competitor isn't good enough (as if they could come anywhere close to matching even the lowest ranked fighter on the card).

They essentially trade years of work in the martial arts to gain expertise in favor of a quick purchase on their VISA card and time spent searching the internet for websites that have information on SEAL Team 6 tactics ideas from Assassins Creed.

As dojo have matured over the years and as the culture has evolved right along with them, it becomes more and more important to provide adequate explanations to prospective deshi as-to the value of a life-long study of Bushido and this is the task before us; us being the Sensei and the Hatamoto who have taken on the task of preserving traditional martial arts.  Items to explore in upcoming blog ideas.

See you on the mat.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX

December 2017


152. One Job, One Gi, One Martini

A monk lives a life of single focus.  The Buddha’s purpose in founding orders of monks and nuns was to provide an environment in which spiritual development and discover of “self” or “not-self” would be made easier by not being part of the outside world with all the distractions that entails.

The outside or lay community would provide the monks with their basic needs including food and clothing and any expenses that they might incur in their study which could last years if not an entire lifetime.  In this way the disciplined, simplistic and orderly lifestyle was and still is conducive to meditation and finding inner peace on the way to kensho and satori and learning to enjoy the fact that all life is suffering.  Isolating and targeting that goal (or “non-goal”) was therefore easier since all of their existence was centered on that idea.

This is the source of the old Zen phrase, “One Bowl, One Robe”, representing the only physical and non-spiritual needs of the full-time monk.  I would expand that to include, “One Bowl, One Robe, One Bieru” in order to also take into account a little after-hours activity or some of that apres’ temple I’ve read so much about .

For those of us not into chanting about the glories of suffering and robe-wearing, having to make our own way in the world, make a living, and support the family gets in the way, intrudes as it were, on our having a long-term goal, a prime reason for not being able to train in martial arts like we might desire; thus the rationale behind the common saying, “Life gets in the way of what I really want to do”.

Compare that single focus in high school or university (that of education only and then whatever fun we want to find) to having a full time job and working towards career advancement, family, and then attempting to train consistently in martial arts.  One reason for finding it difficult making it to the mat is a lack of the fiery energy you had in your youth where you felt you could literally do it all and still have enough fire left inside to go to the beach and drink that entire case of bieru’s by yourself, and then get up the next day and do it all over again.  As we get older so many thing intrude on our consciousness and time that we wear ourselves out trying the make all the targets on our agendas and calendars thus leaving little of what is “us” for the mat.  Then, a lack of energy caused by too many irons in the fire creates a lack of physical activity which in turn causes weight gain, a lack of “wind” and we tire easily, and a corresponding lack of energy.

Another issue is that of begin out of school, having a job and for quite possibly the first time in our lives, some money in our pocket.  Thinking about that two week vacation to the California wine country or taking the kids to Disney suddenly looks so much more attractive than a week at a gasshuku working day and night while skinning your knees,  sleeping dormitory style on a bad bed, getting cracking in the head, being choked out, and then going home exhausted.

The solution for all these “reasons” for not training is becoming more efficient in how we organize ourselves.  When I first moved to Houston, I had a job where I had extensive travel and worked downtown.  When I was in town I made as many classes as I could by packing a protein drink and an energy bar in my briefcase.  I didn’t go home after work and before the dojo that night.  I worked late to get ahead on assignments at the office and free up time, and then went straight to the dojo after consuming the snack at the office.  I knew myself well enough to know with certainty that if I went home first, had a meal and then sat down for five minutes that I wouldn’t get back up and would miss keiko and then use the excuse of, "Well, I'll just go tomorrow night".

The other organizational strategy that I used was to write my training times in my calendar in red which told me to not violate those “business appointments” unless something more critical came up (such as a family emergency, illness, or some other issue).  I ignored invitations to Happy Hour or dinner out because those social events are always best done on non-work nights anyway.  I always wrote in important family times (birthdays, anniversaries, holiday events) and of course planned around job issues.  With some consistent practice at this balancing act, it became easy after a while and stressing out over any one area gradually disappeared since I was meeting the needs of all three.

I was always reasonable in this and split time between work, dojo, and family but always made time for all three.  Anyone who thinks that you have to become a monk and live a life of “One Bowl, One Robe, One Bieru” is wrong.  You can live a life of “One Job, One Gi, One Martini” quite well and have time for family too.  All it takes is a broader focus and some organizational skills.

See you on the mat.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX

August 2017


151. The Secret Life of Dojo

In a movie too so very long ago called “The Secret Life of Pets” we were amused by the shenanigans of pets after the owners left home.  All in all it was a pretty funny movie in some sections while others were simply a rehash of other, earlier CG ventures into not having to hire real people or train real pets.

I was reminded of the movie not-so-very-long-ago (like last week) while working in the garage during the day when everyone else was at work.

Ah Grasshopper you say.  Why pray-tell were you at home and not at the office?

Well.  Having hit 65, combined with the changing economic conditions, along with life, the universe, and all that caused the decision after some pondering, ruminating, and chewing-of-the-cud to simplify, simplify, simplify, and increase efficiency by closing the shoe box of an office I was existing in (and paying money for) and moving my office to the house along with deciding to no longer be a property & casualty agent; but to instead focus on what got me into insurance to begin with and what I know best ………….. group benefits consulting and brokerage aka “how to keep the guys in the shop healthy enough to come to work and follow orders and not call in sick on Monday’s or Friday’s).

As we get older, we should re-examine parts of our lives to see what we can make less stressful and do better, how we can become more efficient (read accomplish more by doing less or put another way …….. how much can I get done while being as lazy as possible).  So this re-org of my professional life (I’m not retiring by any means but I do not intend to remain the work-a-holic I’ve been since I was ten years old) was a part of re-examining the aspects of my existence.  Slowing down and smelling the roses (and drinking more good whiskey) has become more important than it used to be.  Facing your mortality does that as evidenced by seeing that first Social Security check in the mail.

And so goes the dojo.

Huh?  How did Sensei jump from cleaning out his office at age 65 to the dojo?

Well, Young Padawan Apprentice, it’s all the same.  Re-sorting what does and doesn’t matter is the same process whether it’s the job or the dojo.  How do you improve?  How do you become more efficient?  How do you move forward?

Part of this office closing and movin’ it to the house was of course boxing it all up and putting it in the garage for sorting, throwing away, and shredding (since I deal with a lot of HIPAA privacy issues …… Sounds like a line from a dime-store pot-boiler spy novel ………. “ .. he fed the secret scrolls into the gaping maw of the machine and the shredder ran for days until the dogs howled from the continual whine of the blades and the FBI showed up in their white “Joe’s Plumbing” van to see if there anything of interest in the bags of little paper confetti thrown out onto the curb by the street.  The furtive men in their “I Loved J. Edgar On My Knees” embroidered Izod’s ran back and forth as they single handedly put Scotch Tape’s stock value on the map while buying it by the rail car load as they pasted all the little squares back together …..” 

So I’m sitting in the garage with boxes stacked three deep around me and with the trash bags being filled and smoking a cigar while sipping bourbon; a classic requirement of any half-way competent paper shredder (just don’t let your neck tie get caught in the machine) and the trash truck came by twice during the day.  Along with the recycle truck.  And that was shortly followed by the “heavy day” truck picking up old mattresses and the broken down washing machine that in earlier times and other locales would have more normally ended up on the front porch with a pothos ivy planted in the opening (after taking the door off of course).

Next comes not one, but two different lawn maintenance groups who roll up, jump out of the trucks, do a Strategic Air Command style Defcon 5 level simultaneous wet-start of all the lawn equipment; the pushers, the riders, the blowers, the chain saws, the tree limb cutters, and the radio’s playing conjunto music.  There for a while it was so noisy that I couldn’t hear the rock and roll coming out of my radio and I quickly decided with no insult intended, that I much prefer the Rolling Stones to Selina.

Then the next wave of lawn boys (for some reason every house on my double cull-de-sac uses a different lawn company) along with someone getting their entire front yard ripped out and landscaped.

Somewhere in there was ATT, U-Verse, Xfinity, Direct TV, and Dish Network, all pulling up in front of various houses for repair, removal, or installation.

Oh.  And not to forget one electrician, one plumber, and two air conditioning repair companies (a hot summer day I guess).

So much like the movie Secret Live of Pets where the dogs put on rap, reggae, and heavy metal and hit the booze the second the owners walk out, the neighborhood came to life in a way that one never sees after working hours when everyone is home from school and is hiding inside, sipping their Cosmopolitan’s, Vesper martini’s (love “The Bond”) and channel surfing while kissing the dog, hugging the kids, and beating the spouse … wait … isn’t that supposed to be beating the dog and  ………. ).  It’s the part of life in the ‘hood that no one ever sees unless you just happen to be there AND be outside to watch the life as it flows by.  If you’re inside sick, or if you are addicted to Phil Donahue, or if you come out very briefly to climb in the car for errands, you’d never know.

A dojo is much the same.  The class trains and leaves.  The dojo falls silent but most of the real work goes on when all the deshi are elsewhere, just like the pet owners and just like the neighbors.

How does the Sensei make lesson plans?  What goes thru’ the minds of the senior players and instructors when they're not pounding uke into the mat or strangulating him into unconsciousness?  Do the deshi ever see Sensei or the Hatamoto sitting in their easy chair but not seeing the tv show?  While Sensei watches (or not-watches the tv) the spouse comments about how his/her feet twitch and their hands make little movements as he runs thru’ lesson plans, or analyzes a movement in his mind; the little twitches being unconscious movements that reflect the brain power being applied to solving Budo problems.

Do the deshi ever see a senior player wake up in the middle of the night watching the fan go around and visualizing a kata, trying to understand its’ relationship to other kata or movements?  Probably not unless they also wake up, trying to understand the night’s lesson, or remember a kata they’re working on for promotional demo or embu.

It’s not until you stop and slow down and deliberately immerse yourself in the flow either of the ‘hood or the doj’ that you begin to realize that most of the “life” in either really takes place in ways that are not immediately apparent.

In a neighborhood it’s the work that keeps the ‘hood going that you normally don’t see.  All the water, gas, and electric repairs.  The upkeep of the tv systems and internet.  The yard, roof, paint maintenance that happens when you’re not there.

In a dojo, most of the work is invisible.  It’s the mind working to understand, to comprehend, to remember, to integrate that is where the “real” work, the “real” activity is.  It’s the mind thinking, applying all its kilowatts and etheric waves and ergon energy to the problems; why does it work, why doesn’t it work, what’s that mean, what does Sensei mean by  “zanshin” and why does what I feel in keiko seem a little different each time I step on the mat?

Going to keiko and doing the drills, kihon, waza, and kata is the outward appearance of learning.  It’s what you don’t see, the inward work, that makes the real difference and it’s how people actually learn.

But unless you take the time and learn to un-see the obvious and then to see the un-obvious, you won’t know.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX

August 2017

150. Ever Seen?

Uh, Like Dude, Where Am I?

Understand that where you are is not where you think you are.

Ever seen a fist fight up close?  Ever seen someone step in and try to break it up?

Ever seen someone get in an argument with someone else?  Ever seen anyone make a comment about “can’t we all just get along”?

Ever been in a dojo and seen a junior student voice a half-question/half-opinion?

Ever seen a total stranger walk up to someone and tell them how to act, almost as if they were a parent instead of …… a stranger?

Yeah.  Me too.  And I watched as the fight was re-directed to the interloper and he had his head handed back to him, and as the argument turned into a beat down on the guy with the unwanted opinion, and as the junior student was slammed into the mat and physically escorted to the door of the dojo by Sensei, and as the “imagined parent” came ever so close to being slammed against the wall with the only reason not, being the person who was accosted was more mature and restrained than the “parent”.

At some point in your life you’ve seen, maybe not “seen it all” per se, but you’ve certainly seen enough to draw some conclusions about people and their weaknesses; and the desire to insert their opinions where they are not at all wanted is most certainly a weakness.  Indeed, it is a weakness so severe that in many cases it could be classified as an entry to “The Darwin Awards” where the gene pool is cleansed by the elimination of one more errant piece of random DNA.

People tend to want to know that their opinions are wanted, that their ideas have value.  They also want to feel superior to others in the sense that they feel smarter than others and at some point concluded that the only way for people to know that they are smarter is to simply jump the shark and leap right in there with their ideas and opinions.

Budo, and by extension the Bushi that follow the precepts, know that to insert oneself into a point in space and time that does not include them is to unnecessarily endanger themselves.  This is an important lesson in Budo and in becoming a Bushi.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX

July 2017


149. But Coach, I Don't Get It

In teaching advanced work we sometimes run into issues regarding the students’ inability to understand the material, not to mention do it correctly, internalize it, or pay it forward by teaching

The issue at hand is that very few people under about 6th or 7th (legitimate 6th or 7th dan and not “Everyone gets a trophy … er … ah ….. rank”) have the overall background, understanding, knowledge, and Budo-maturity to fully grasp the lessons; a little akin’ to teaching a blind man to paint the Sistine Chapel by using the little end of a broken ax handle instead of a paint brush.  They “Just-Can’t-Get–It” as it is completely beyond their ability to grasp, much less transmit and pay forward.  They may give it a sincere try but it just lacks something important.  You/they must have the background first or all the attempts in the world result either in their (the student’s) injury or your (the teacher’s) frustration.

This background does indeed include a lot of work in randori but is primarily based in heavy kata work.  In randori a particular movement or discovered technique may work exceptionally well against the opponent but randori being the random animal that it is, that movement may not create itself (within the context of that randori session) more than once every dozen sessions or, may only be seen once due to the uniqueness of the particular circumstances that it arose within.  Only in kata is a specific movement (and it’s details both gross and subtle) duplicated exactly the same way through each pass thus enabling a detailed study of what it is, what it does, and how it fits into the overall ryu by repetitive practice and consideration.

This lack of deep background isn’t really an issue in a dojo dedicated primarily to instruction in self-defense, in beer after work, and apres’ dojo since they are only concerned about what’s on tap; but it can become a major issue if the dojo is more focused on the preservation of old flow koryu and ancient work such as Kano’s strangulation kata or Koshiki no Kata (included in the Kodokan’s syllabus) and Kano/Fukuda’s strangulation kata (not included in the Kodokan’s syllabus).

I throw out these two examples for the simple reason that the first (Koshiki) is generally only practiced by very senior (read old guys) at the Kodokan and by a very few Aikido dojo including us.  My Sensei had trained in Japan since the early 1950’s and until introduced to it by one of Tomiki’s very senior teachers in the late 1990’s was totally unaware of its existence, much less it’s importance to Aikido and Judo principles both.  The vast majority of Judo and Aikido players never touch the work at any level and therefore are unaware.

The kata is from Kito Ryu and the principles of were openly acknowledged as being the root foundation of both Judo and Aikido in terms of its application of balance breaking, dynamic projectile throwing (each throw designed to cripple or kill the opponent) and Aiki which is deeply embedded in the techniques.  Ukemi must be exemplary as failure to respond properly or any tendency to “tighten up” or resist the dynamic energies WILL result in uke having a very bad day.

The second, the Kano/Fukuda strangulation kata, was shared with us as a pure matter of chance and fortuitous opportunity, e.g. just pure dumb luck to be there when the lessons were offered.  The work is apparently several hundred years old (we were told 1,000) and is out of a likely now-dead ryu of jujitsu.  The work consists of all standing strangulations and is paired with a counter/kaeshi waza with some applications of the neck lock using sutemi waza (sacrifice throws) to apply the neck lock to uke while he is still in the air.  The kata was supposedly intended to be the 2nd half of Nage no Kata, the front half being the ground portion and the back half being the standing portion.  Very reminiscent of some forms seen in Daito Ryu (the first waza is definitely similar with a direct breaking entry) but simultaneously very different, not to mention how subtle the correct application of a neck lock can be.

So, both of these kata take or require an in-depth understanding of all the principles involved in either Aikido or Judo.  The ability to take any type ukemi, short of jumping off the Empire State is just the beginning.  Control of posture, gaze, breathing, sen, lack of ego, relaxed mind, etc. must be fully developed before doing either of these which is why Koshiki is generally only done by old guys and why the strangulation work is lost outside Japan (if it even still exists there anywhere other than possibly in small, non-mainstream dojo). 

The understanding of principle and reflexive abilities needed just to physically survive either one of these kata is critically necessary before beginning the work and eventually understanding it.

Most students, and Sensei also for that matter, do not understand how the learning process works for martial arts and the neglect of basic to intermediate to advanced to esoteric (kakushi budo or concealed arts) kata work reflects that lack of understanding in how they train and in what (and why) they fail to understand.

As a conceptual analysis let’s assume that in order to fully grasp and utilize hyper-advanced work the martial artist must fully understand and internalize 100 distinctly different ideas.  These ideas consist of areas such as hand in a pushing position, unbendable arm, erect spinal posture, head up, head over shoulders–over–hips-over feet, working on the balls and walking on the outer edges of the feet, feet pointed straight ahead and not splayed out, proper gaze (metsuke), breathing out at the proper time, and understanding sen or timing.

Now let’s assume that understanding intuitively these first ten ideas/principles are the minimum necessary to do the basic work correctly (and to understand the basic work and teach it).  Let’s also assume that it takes a minimum of 500 to 1,000 passes through the basic work before those ten are internalized such that having to think about them while doing the kata work is no longer necessary; their having been fully internalized and made reflexive.

The same process is now necessary for the next 10 or 20 or 30 ideas such as sen-sen-no-sen, syncing with the attacker, and on and on.  To internalize these next 20 or 30 ideas means doing the next level of work with focus and another 1,000 repetitions of all the kata work.  Now the student has fully internalized 40 of the 100 ideas necessary for complete understanding of all facets of the ryu.

In effect, you have a punch-list and as you do more work at increasingly higher levels and each idea or item is worked to the point of full understanding (and each item on that punch-list is checked off), each item no longer requires conscious thought and so the subtleties of more and more advanced work become obvious since all the basics are internalized.  If this training concept is followed through on, then you eventually reach the last item and if you have done sufficient rep’s of each item or principle then all 100 become fully internalized and reflexive and not needing conscious thought for the application at speed of any waza requiring them.  Now you are ready for the esoteric work which can be a step beyond what you’ve done prior no matter how advanced it may seem.

This background work is how a ryu is preserved.  A failure to train deshi to this level means that much of the koryu can be lost because having no one with the necessary background to understand means that there is no one to teach it to.  This simply cannot be done via the randori/shiai path; only the kata path and even then, sufficient work must be done to reach that depth of knowledge.  A few passes once a year or so is not enough.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX June 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

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.


L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

March 2017

143. How to Wear Your Black Belt – Part II (Focus)

Once you get your black belt it’s easy to lose focus, to slack off and take a brief vacation from the intense training that you did to prepare for your demo.  In a word, “Don’t”.  In another word, “DON’T!”.  Part of Humility is the ability to understand and deal with the idea that you don’t everything (yet), likely never will know everything, and worst of all, don’t really know what you don’t know.

The basic difference between Shodan and Nidan is minimal and the time in grade (assuming that you get to class and train) is also minimal.  The longest periods between promotions can fool you because the break-points in learning (and internalization) are not where you think them to be.

The first longest period is from first-night beginner to Shodan.  This is simply due to the necessity to take someone with likely no athletic or martial arts experience and have them internalize the fundamental operating principles of the art form.  Moving off the line of attack, blending and flowing, learning attack and defense timing (Sen-no-Sen, Sen-Sen-no-Sen,  Ato-no-Sen), kuzushi, ukemi, musubi, the basic waza of striking, throwing and joint locking, etc., etc., all mean a long road to internalize and make functional the base essence (the core) of the ryu.  When you hear old players in koryu forms discuss how the actual structure of the ryu changes the deshi, then this is a part of that “re-structuring” of the person.  The deshi “becomes” the ryu.

Shodan to Nidan is, in a very real sense nothing more than setting into concrete your intuitive understanding and ability to use the fundamental principles and waza of your art form.  Shodan means you “got it” and Nidan means you “really got it”.

(Keep in mind here that I never intend to denigrate the achievement, only to set that achievement into its proper context within the larger picture which is IMO necessary to maintain the focus needed to move forward).

Nidan to Sandan has another long period although not as long as beginner to Shodan.  This is due to Sandan being a jump-point in understanding.  In our ryu Sandan is where the deep understanding of flowing, merging and of taking control of the attacker the first instant when they cross ma-ai and begin the attack sequence (and then not letting them regain control until waza termination) begins to be acquired and internalized. 

Sandan marks a demarcation as-it-were; the next really big progressive step in making a high-level Aikido player.  The timing from Sandan to Yondan therefore, much like Shodan to Nidan is also fairly brief as Yondan is more material to learn and internalize but that material is essentially the same as that learned for Sandan; except “more of the same” with added sophistication applied.  Yondan then “firms up” the jump-point; a critical necessity since beginning with the journey to Godan, really advanced material is looked at.

So the first gap is beginner to Shodan.  Shodan to Nidan is fairly close then the next big gap is Nidan to Sandan.  Sandan to Yondan is fairly close due to the similarity in the work required so the next big gap is Yondan to Godan with Godan to Rokudan being fairly close.  Then the next big (I should say “BIG” gap is Rokudan to Nanadan.

I think you see the picture.  The long and the short of it is to not lose focus, EVER!  And, humility is a part of that.  Arrogance retards learning because that arrogance, that failure to understand that you don’t know what you don’t know yet becomes a barrier, a closed door that is difficult to pass.  The phrase, “empty tea cup” does not apply solely and only to the beginner sitting in the rain on the front porch.

The gaps between major progressions is really quite minimal so once you make Shodan just go for the Nidan and quit worrying about it.  Once you make Nidan just go to Sandan because you know that once you get to Sandan then Yondan is just around the corner.

Pretty soon you quit worrying about “just around the corner” and you just “become” Aikido.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

February 2017