Benefits of Aikido Training Feed

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

140. Wham, Bam, Thank You Mam

Sempai (solo) - Now rouse her right up boys, for Tokyo town

Kohai (chorus) - Go waay, waaay, throw the man down

Sempai (solo) - We'll choke his butt out then throw the man down

Kohai (chorus) - Oh give me kuzushi and slam the man down

.......... Waaay Ho and slam the man down

.......... Slam the man down boys, slam the man down

.......... Oh give me kuzushi and slam the man down

Sempai (solo) - We fall on tatami of local dojo

Kohai (chorus) - Hi, ho throw the man down .......

............ Sung to the tune of a Merchant Marine Chanty, circa pre-1890's ....

When I first left my old dojo years ago and was asked to open my own dojo and begin teaching independently I approached a YMCA and used their gymnastics floor and then later, when I had the chance to open a stand-alone dojo I worked with people with engineering experience and designed a floor based on an old Kodokan design.  We built it 45 by 50 feet and put canvas and Olympic foam mats on top of a wood frame topped with plywood; but the part that mattered the most was the suspension system, 800 specially designed steel springs, custom drawn and spun to a uniform draw weight to support the floating floor.  Some folks use valve springs and I've even seen designs that used blocks of foam between the lower and upper plywood layers or even car tires laid on their sides.

Regardless of the exact design of the floor the fact remains that in order to learn Aikido (or any throwing art form) you absolutely must do two things and do them consistently over a sufficiently long period of training time.  First, have a floor that will let you throw (and be thrown) hard, with vigor (force) and second, use it for regularly scheduled powerful ukemi practice and not just for walking, rolling, some half-hearted "soft” ukemi/floating leaf falls on it.

Sound repetitive?  Yes it is; that’s the importance of ukemi, real ukemi and not some geriatric version.

I've been to many dojo of the kind my ex-Sensei referred to as "country dojo", as opposed to what he referred to as "professional dojo".  While he never spent much time expanding that discussion topic, I and others interpreted his remarks as setting forth the difference between a dojo that approaches everything as soft and slow (almost like a form of soft, geriatric Aikido) and one that has a more serious, powerfully dynamic, "take another 100 ukemi and throw a little harder please" approach.

Looking back on it now, years after leaving his tutelage, I now realize several things possible about his avoiding (for the most part) this topic and the protestations (and indeed arguments from proprietors of “country dojo”) it can create;

  • First, you have to have a good falling surface and the simple fact of the matter is that most dojo simply don't and never will.  They train anywhere they can whether that be in the back area of a BJJ school or on folding mats at a gymnasium or gymnastics school or they use crude wrestling mats like those at a dojo that I ran a seminar at years ago; dirty, hard, punishing.  They do the best they can but pro-level facilities are just beyond their resources.
  • Second, most of their student population is older or off the bad end of the BMI tables.  Old, overweight players can't take the physical punishment so the entire curriculum is slowed down to something that could be called "NHB" (Nursing Home Budo).
  • Third, they teach a fluid crowd.  That is, they find it difficult to retain more than one or possibly two senior ranks, so for the most part no one sticks around long enough to develop really high-level ukemi ability which retards the development of those who actually do hang around.
  • Lastly, they follow the "internal power" ideas and "soft off-balance" ideas to the point that they forget to do Aikido; instead, training incessantly in arcane exercises designed to teach internal power while barely moving their feet and developing overly cooperative ukes.  They become wonderful at holding hands but unable to do dynamic Aikido.

Any one of these ideas can (and did all those years ago) create arguments, as the Sensei from any dojo that fits one or more of these "country dojo" descriptions will protest since they view themselves as teaching "real Aikido".  The first three I certainly understand (and understand well) since I started at a community ed center myself with really bad folding mats on concrete floors but we still found a way to do better and threw hard onto crash pads and also worked on fast and hard attacks and kuzushi but pulled back just before we blew uke into the floor.

Bottom-line; we do what we can with what we have at hand.  I consider myself lucky to have a large, professional-level dojo with the best falling surface possible.  Others don't have my resources and if I didn't have them I'd probably have a dojo less than half the size I have now and would with a small group of dedicated players but I would still do dynamic Aikido and would still require everyone to throw hard and take hard ukemi; even if I had to aim their flying corpses at crash mats on the other side of the room.

The impact of ukemi (bwaha … small pun) will, over time help develop a strong, adaptable (to stress) and resilient body; one that can take a lot of punishment while enabling the uke (the "receiver") to simply get back up and keep going.  Sensei used to say, and I find myself repeating him in this regard, that each and every time you fall (get thrown) every single muscle, tendon, ligament and organ in the body, including the connective tissue and fascia receives a very brief but powerful isometric tension, even the eyelids, that strengthens the body in  its entirety.  It gives you what he used to call a "hard body" as your innards' strengthen to meet the performance demands put upon them.

I also believe (although he never addressed this aspect) that when we are thrown we briefly hold our breath which serves to "pressurize" the body from the inside out, strengthening the circulatory system with the temporarily increased pressure.  This has been described before by researchers including Moshe Feldenkrais in his writings on Judo.  Plus tactically, we don't really want to fully exhale as we hit the floor since the person throwing us could land on top, crushing our chest, and aside from pushing any last air out of our lungs, totally compress the rib cage and break ribs since the chest is not momentarily locked, but is instead collapsing.

So what else can taking dynamic and powerful throws teach us, and give us ability in?  How about this:

  • When you learn how to take falls as they are honestly and powerfully thrown you begin to learn an intuitive feel for countering those throws because you know when the throw is there, and when it is not.  You learn to intuitively feel the difference between him controlling your balance and posture or only seeming to.
  • When you train, and you are thrown by your uke honestly (and not as pre-arranged "jumping" or "dropping down") then you in-turn get to throw him so you practice both the tori and the uke side and gain a deeper understanding of both, and what each feels like as the "giver" and the "taker" (person throwing and person being thrown).
  • Once you fully understand these aspects then randori takes on a whole new level of sophistication.  If you attack and he attempts a waza using little to no kuzushi then you immediately sense it on an intuitive level and you simply "walk out" of anything he does.  Frustrating for him perhaps but it pushes him to clean up his movements and it makes you "unthrowable" in the sense of every legendary martial artist you ever read about who had control of "internal power".
  • Every time he hits that off-balance you absorb the shock and develop the ability to redirect that impact whether it be a kuzushi, an atemi or an attempt at a joint lock. As your body learns to absorb it, it adapts and controls the attacker via tai sabaki and self-control of posture and self-control of internal power (position of spine, muscle tension, etc.)
  • You learn the ability to push his power back into him. The simplest example would be he takes kuzushi and enters for wakigatamae so instead of resisting, you intuitively follow his power and motion and "feed" him the armbar and take Gedan-ate or Sukui-nage.  By learning to not resist, by learning to relax which in turn better enables you to absorb his energy you become able to combine his energy with your energy and throw him with less effort than you could have otherwise.

So the question should also be posed; should you ever do "soft" Aikido and study little intricate, slowly developed ideas of "soft off balance" and "soft touch" Aikido?

Of course.  That's all part of the broader picture in my view.  However, the "soft" side without throwing dynamically is only a small part.  Even people like Ueshiba who was reported to have once commented that he got to be as good as he was after 60 or so years of hard training used the bigger picture of start hard and end up soft. Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei: “I am what I am because I trained hard style for 60 years. What can you do?”

Many Aikido players, being raised only on a diet of "soft touch" never learn these basic ideas and thus their Aikido is forever flawed to a certain extent due to their never having experienced what true dynamics can be.

Go find a mat and ask your partner in geiko to slam you into the mat, and in return, you to him as you both sing a couple of choruses of a sea chanty.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

November 2016

128. Maria Did It, Go Talk To Her

Observing junior players train for a promotional demo, especially if it's their first, is an interesting blend of excitement mixed with trepidation and budding confidence combined with hesitation and internal doubt.  During one recent class I watched the players review the night's lesson of material that was targeted at upcoming demos.  While walking around the mat assisting, commenting and correcting I was reminded of something more easily told by a set of true events that I was involved in over 25 years ago.

Once upon a time in a dark and foreboding .... oh sorry .... been watching too much tv lately ..... many years ago when I was a senior Yudansha at my old dojo I spent a lot of time working with beginners for Sensei.  One newbie was a woman named Maria (can't remember the last name which is good for her privacy .... plus her first name wasn't even Maria to begin with).  In speaking with Maria over the weeks and months she was training she gradually rose from white belt, to yellow belt, Sensei and I eventually learned some things about her.

As she attended classes and began to feel more at home she gradually opened up about some of her personal issues without being asked to.  My (and Sensei' assumption) was that much in her personal life outside the dojo was troubling her, and aside from her looking for self-defense she was also seeking out a social support group.  The fact that she had come to the dojo and had found both in the same place just made it easier and more comfortable for her.

Basically she had apparently grown up as a battered child and lacked any basic self-confidence or belief in herself which had led her to an unhappy marriage to a man who simply repeated the pattern that she was conditioned to.  Life went on as usual for her.

Somehow, someway, she finally had the courage to look for self-defense lessons.  To this day I don't know if her husband had finally broke her back with that last straw for the camel to carry, or if a girl friend or blood-family member or minister had encouraged to take some kind of action but somehow she found her way to the dojo; almost stumbled in actually as if even the act of walking onto the property was an issue for her.

It was immediately apparent to us all that she had no self-confidence as she even had difficulty in just simply putting her hand in a man's face to do Shoman-ate and to push him away from her; her conditioning from childhood to the present being that strong and that subliminally powerful.

Sensei was big on encouragement for new students and I was too; because I was taught that aspect of teaching and working with people by my father and grandfather.  In coming months I spent a lot of time simply working her thru the issues of release motions, basic ideas behind having good posture, putting a hand in the attacker's face to get separation, and then eventually working up to throwing them.

Finally after what seemed an eternity, she began to understand the idea of being "pro-active" and of aggressively seeking to be more forward in her actions and taking the initiative in entering and breaking the attacker's off-balance and controlling their posture and throwing them down.  She also began to understand the importance of being relaxed and calm while becoming more posturally confident (the traditional "stand up straight", "good posture", "look him in the face and don't look down") and pro-active while doing so in the "safe" context of kata and kihon practice and not "thinking" or "acting" mad and aggressive.

We were essentially re-programming her to just accept movement and kuzushi and hand in the face and throwing as "just another walk in the park", and as something so natural that it happened everyday.  This is one of the critically important functions of kata; allowing the student to program into the mind (and to viscerally understand) motion, posture, timing, how to be aggressive, how to react and how to deal with vigorous attacks, all within the safe and controlled context and environment provided by clearly defined kata ........... all of which taken together is the gateway to truly spontaneous randori and self-defense.

At no time, other than in casual conversation on the mat, did we tell her that she had to be a Navy SEAL or a street fighter.  We simply encouraged her to come to class (a lot) and just do the work and that eventually her subconscious mind would understand the art form (Aikido) and the concepts of self-defense and that she would just "Do It" when the time came.

Navy Seals and street fighter are naturals.  They already know how to "run towards the sound of gunfire".  People who are not naturals tend to flinch and pull back slightly from a vigorous attack.  It's when you pull back (in some circumstances) that the attacker takes you because your retreat provides him the opening and because you're physically trying to move "away" from him your mind is also retreating (which means that you cannot react to his attack).  Sometimes it's necessary to run towards the gunfire and take the initiative; and kata provides an environment and a tool to teach that.

Well, one day Maria understood.  She was walking in one of the largest shopping malls in Houston when a purse snatcher ran up behind her and grabbed her purse.  Since the strap was around her arm she was whipped around and actually pulled towards the thief as he tried to run off with her purse.  As she turned she automatically grabbed his arm and he ended up face-planted in the floor with her holding an armbar.  According to her account (I loved this part) she told him to give her the purse back.  He refused.  She told him a second time to give her the purse back and added, "Or I'll break your elbow!"  He gave her the purse back and ran off after she let him up and after seeing that other people had begun coming over to help.

She enjoyed telling the story at the dojo the next day.

Then, not too long after that the kicker occurred.  Her husband, who apparently liked getting physical with her, refused to give her the car keys when she had just had enough and wanted to move out.  Somehow during the tussle with him over the car keys she got that one good and perfect Shoman-ate in and as she told it, threw him across the room.  After he hit the wall and slid down it he gave the keys to her.

She enjoyed telling that story at the dojo too.

She quit training at the dojo not long after that and when I told her that she had bright future in Aikido and asked why she was stopping training her comment was, "I accomplished what I set out to do."  I understood.

It is my belief that she was looking for an out from her existence and her past upbringing, and that Aikido gave her the self-confidence to see the out and to take it.  She possibly never really wanted to become a life-time player; she just wanted the encouragement and the support to show her that she could do it.  She was looking for that opportunity in her life and after she found it, she was ready to move on.

When we train, some of us already have that spark of aggression.  I came to Aikido having already competed in Tae Kwon Do and Judo but many/most don't.  The training when taken over time, provides a vehicle by which the common, ordinary citizen who has never really been aggressive or physically pro-active, can become more than what they were.

What's that saying, "If you want something you've never had you must do something that you've never done before."

Come to class grasshopper.  Just come to class and do 1,000 repetitions .... and then another 1,000 .... and another .....

Over time, you WILL get there.  You just have to come to class and make the effort.  If Maria could do it, then so can you.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

May 2012

126. The Budo Curse of the Deadly Shrinking Gi - Part III

Ahhh ... back at it after a long first 2 quarters of the New Year and the frustrations of life.  When under stress, working, paying bills, running kids around, chasing clients or feeling like life passed you by on the way to the sushi bar it can be all too easy to stop training and stop trying.

Stop trying?  What do you mean by that Great Sensei Pooh-Bah?

Many times in my MA career I have had the thought (and know many other Sensei who have had the same thought) of "why bother"?  I've taught for years, decades actually,  and can count on a few toes and fingers the number of times I felt burnt-out and wanted to just chuck-it in the ash can and go fishing.  Luckily tho' I've always ignored that feeling and have put down the martini glass, gotten out of the chair, put my gi back on and gotten on the mat for a few waza.

So a few days ago I went down to the local cable place to turn in the boxes as part of our shift from cable to satellite service.  I drove up to the front door and saw two people standing outside.  One was a man in khaki pants and a black shirt and behind him a woman tending to her baby in a baby carrier/car seat.  I walked up, saw that it was opening time and tried the door. 

Rats!  Locked and everyone inside is standing around drinking coffee.  If I'd been the Inspector General I would have shown my badge and after walking in and pouring my own cup of coffee I would have fired every last one of the lazy fools and then sent them down to the charity kiosk to accept donations of used fundoichi's, rusty tanto's and unwashed chopsticks.

Suddenly the guy in the black shirt who has been jabbering loudly on his cell phone and sharing his personal conversation with all of us says in a very loud and very rude voice, "HEY!  We're in line here!"

So I say to myself,  "Self .... here we go again."  Realizing that I'm about two arms length away I look over at him and try to decide whether or not to hit him in the face with the cable modem box I'm holding in my right hand before, or after, I foot sweep him ..... hmmm ..... decisions, decisions.

So I gaze at him ... smile slightly and say in my best cynical tone of voice (actually I was dripping cynicism sarcastically) .... "Ohh reeeeallllly .... ?" sorta like Terry Thomas used to do (you know, the Brit actor with the gap between his eye teeth .... what a great actor .... he could do sarcastic like nobody's business).

Well  .....  I guess he was anticipating some kind of apology or cringing or something like me crawling to the back of a non-existent line but I apparently upset his apple cart when I turned to face him square on while on still holding the modem in my hand and then saying, "I thought you worked here since you're wearing that shirt and all," the implication being that I thought he was nothing more than a door greeter like the old folks at Wally World.

I almost laughed as his face took on a crestfallen look as he looked down at his shirt like he didn't realize that it looked like the same kind of cheap izod-type short sleeve spandex shirt over a bulging belly that a million minimum wage clerks in a million retail stores wear to work every day. 

"Buffoon" was the only thought that came to mind which was then shortly followed by "asshat" as he rushed inside to be first in line ahead of the women who all had small infants in baby carriers (by this time two more had shown up making a total of three women carrying babies in a car carrier while they tried to manage cable boxes and bills and dig out money). 

He apparently thought himself so important, his business so critical to the survival of the human race (what with the impending Mayan End of the World Christmas Holiday Season and all coming up later this year - be sure to get your shopping done really early this time around) that he had to start his day by trying to make a scene with me and then give no consideration at all to women with small babies that could wake up at any moment.  I was left wondering whether or not he was wearing his classic "wife-beater" undershirt under his too-tight Wally World Greeter Shirt and had gotten in a little whacking action in at home before he rushed out all breathless-like to save the world and validate his testosterone levels.

I don't get very sarcastic about these things do I  .....  but then again I so dislike ego, arrogance, and bullies and while I make it a policy to not start the action I sure won't back off from it and indeed find for the most part that simply standing there and not backing down is more than enough to give them pause and to get control of the encounter .... I think they call that "mental Aikido".

Okay .... so now I need to explain how Shrinking Gi's relate to bullies at the cable company and chucking it all to go fishing.

If I'm a Sensei and I decide that I want to learn and teach martial arts I need to be able to walk the walk.  I don't really care if you were good at one point; you should be good at all points even if you're 60 or 70 or 80 .... unless of course unless there is something medically haywire OR you're just "old".  (insert sad face here since time will unfortunately catch up to all of us at one point or another  .... insert another sad face).

How many Sensei do we see on the internet in videos who are wearing ratty and ill-fitting gi's that cover big sushi-bellies (waaay too much time at the bar holding their sake cups in the air and yelling ,"Nurse!") while they wallow around doing some weird and out-of-round version of kokyu-ho and pontificate on how Aikido is "luuvvve and affection for our fellow Budo-ka"?

I've noticed over the last 40 years on the mat (in myself and in others) the tendency to "go rusty" and lose the edge    ...  that is, by not working out at all, by sitting in the chair and drinking coffee for every class (and not just occasionally mind you but every class), by never looking at kata and principles again and again, and by not actively teaching creatively but instead, teaching by rote like you're bored to death and don't care about the art but instead just like the kudos ..... you lose your edge, you lose the ability to calmly function under stress (when challenged by a Wally World Greeter), you lose that "mental flexibility" to intuit what needs to be done and more critically and much more importantly, you lose the ability to communicate those higher levels of Budo to your students simply because you yourself can no longer do it; either physically (too fat and lazy and stiff) or you teach by rote with no growth in understanding apparent and with no energy (a failure to inspire).

In effect, your gi "shrinks" and no longer fits you as you become a Budo Mat Potato (think couch potato except in white pajamas) who should have retired long ago but hangs on only out of habit.  You should take off the gi and instead wear that tacky spandex that all folks with super high BMI's wear in public (oww ... my eyes, my eyes).

When Mr. Rude at the cable store was communicating his "displeasure" towards me for trying to walk into the store the only thing that popped into my head was the thought that I could parry his right hand with my left (I perceived that he was a righty and I was going to divert his attention by knocking his cell phone out of his hand) while doing Shomanate with the modem box in my right  hand while I would take either Ouchigari or Kouchigari (foot sweeps) because of the way he was standing and because initially I was partially bladed-in and leading with my right side towards him.

There have been periods in my Aikido/Budo career where I didn't work out physically a lot but during periods like that I find myself thinking about Aikido day and night and sometimes will wake up at 3 AM and watch the fan go around in circles while I visualize ideas.  So while my body isn't "in the game" so-to-speak like it was when I was younger (and taking 300 ukemi a night) my mind is very much in the game continually, daily, nightly, awake or asleep.  I still train and teach very actively of course  but I'm just not taking 300 ukemi every night and doing 5 run through's a class on Koryu Dai San Kata.

The result of the last three years of my mind being more engaged than my body is that having worked thru' a lot of info and ideas in my head I am now back into the game physically like never before; that's why when confronted with Mr. Greeter I just had this immediate feeling of boredom with just one more asshat (I kinda like that term, it doesn't sound as bad as a__hole but has the same general meaning).

The idea of the modem box for Shomanate came, I'm certain, from the very large amount of hand randori I've been doing and teaching for the last 3 years.  At every class that one of my senior Yudansha attends he and I take 20 to 30 minutes after everyone else has left to do high-speed, high-level hand randori that sometimes will include sacrifice throws which are almost never, ever seen in Aikido randori.

Many nights we'll complete a practice session and look over at the audience that has quietly developed as the departing players stop before walking out the door and instead sit down and watch.  They look in wonder at what we're doing which (after Mr. H and I finish and bow-off) many times leads to a discussion (sometimes at 9:30 or 10 at night) of what we're doing, how we're doing it and how an intense study of the kihon and fundamentals set the stage for them to later also do high-speed, high-level randori.  So all that randori sharpens the senses and perceptions when faced off against someone and makes you much more intuitive in "reading" them.

The foot sweeps that were intuited in my head likely came from the strangulation kata we've been drilling now for the last year and a half which includes foot sweeps as an offensive or as a defensive idea.

And, since foot sweeps very often lead into going down on top of the opponent and beginning ne-waza that idea came from all the Kosen Judo (grappling) we've been doing in the new study group we've formed because going to the ground holds less and less fear; a battle that all Aikido players face unless they do some level of study of ne-waza.

So the moral to the story here is that because I've always stayed active one way or another, because I'm of late (of late ... haa ... the last two three years of  real focus didn't start yesterday) intensely studying hand randori and sacrifice throws and strangulations and foot sweeps and ground work and am now really into koryu jojutsu and weapons work .... my mind is not stale and is refining, developing and redeveloping its' flexibility and intuitive processes on several different levels.

My mind is active and questing and seeking and flexible and not stiff and stale from teaching the same thing the same way a thousand times.  Years ago when I trained at the last dojo before leaving and striking out on my own I did a lot of work with a good friend who was also a senior Yudansha there.  I really liked and respected this guy but every single time Sensei asked him to teach a lesson he taught the first release movement (that's the 3rd of the 5 Original Hand Blades for you Tomiki guys out there).  He liked it and was good at it but that was all he ever taught and looking back now after all these years, I think that his mind had calcified and was lacking the creativity that could have allowed him more intuitive flexibility in his responses, and would have allowed him to inspire and teach his students and to pass his understandings on to them.

So in a long and convoluted nut shell that's about it for shrinking gi's.  The lesson here ..... just don't.  Stay active.  Move forward.  And if you need to buy a bigger gi ... don't even think about it.  Buy yourself a rice cooker, learn to roll sushi, go on a Zen Macrobiotic diet and spend more time on the mat actually doing stuff and making that gi and hakama look good.

L.F.  Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

May 2012

124. The Budo Curse of the Deadly Shrinking Gi - Part II

ahemm .... as we were discussing last time .... you don't necessarily have to be in primo shape to begin your Aikido training, nor should you ever expect that Aikido will somehow whip you into top-notch shape.  Aikido will however, allow you to start slowly and over time, stretch and re-balance your body equally on both right and left sides and improve your overall tone (body and muscle tone, not your ability to distinguish between A flat and C minor).

So if you've a hankering to become an Aikido animal then run out, drive down and walk into your nearest Aiki-verse HQ and ask for the guy in charge.  With some patience and support you too can eventually ukemi with the best of them.

I find people are funny creatures (of course I'm sure a lot of people find me a funny creature too so I guess we're semi-even).  They hesitate to begin Aikido training and then once they get into it they work and sweat and train and over time get into what quite possibly is the best shape of their lives.  They gain flexibility that they never had, reflexes that appear magical and conditioning that just develops over time and allows them to take ukemi through-out a 2 hour class or an all-day seminar.  Suddenly (ha ... suddenly ..... years on the mat later) they are where they thought they'd never be the day they walked into the dojo as a tentative, slovenly, out-of-shape, post high school college person.  And best of all; they got there by just doing what I discussed earlier which was to go to class a lot, and at each class just do a little bit this time and a little bit more next time.

Now here comes the rub (that comes with tight clothes that may be a tad small).  Once you've reached "Ueshiba-hood" stay in shape and don't become "The Big Sensei".  Whoa there good buddy .... is that a pun?

Why yes it is ..... and it is so because after all that beginner's hesitation about not being in good enough shape to start and after quite possibly years of effort to get into shape they become a senior Sempai, a Sensei, a Hanshi, a Shihan, a ... a ... oh you know ......... one of those.  One day they wake up, look in the mirror and scream because the only way they can see their privates (their "personal aiki") is in the mirror, since that's how big their belly is now.

WTF! they scream as they run around the bathroom in all their higglely-jigglely nakedness with their hair on fire ........ all their hair  .... omg that's a vision that would make you want to gouge out your eyes with a pair of chopsticks .... MY EYES MY EYES.

Yes.  I have been told that I tend to have a rather unique view of the universe (I personally I tend to look at it as a unique sense of humor).  However, as part of my world-view, and my sense of humor, I have a rather jaundiced view of people who claim to be something unique but fail to live the life that claim would entail.

So .... why is it that so many senior martial artists & players work so hard to get to where they are, spend so much time, expend so much blood, swear and tears (hey ... weren't they a pop music group back in the 70's? .... hidey hi, hidey ho .... spinning wheel ... I diverge .... ) to get into shape to do the work and take the ukemi and strengthen their bodies and then once they get there and have it ... they don't seem able to walk past a free breakfast buffet and walk 5 miles to avoid the salad bar?

Have you ever seen a formerly skinny Aikido player put on so much weight that the front panel of his hakama now looks like a G-string?  Have you ever seen a senior player grow a front bumper so large that they have to have the front of their hakama cut off because the slant of their belt was so low under the spare tire that the front hakama drug on the ground?

I tend to make a big deal out of living the picture that you try to present.  I also firmly believe that if you are going to be a Sensei then BE a Sensei including staying in the physical training shape & condition you tell your students to get into for their training (and don't live life like you really WANT to be able to fit into that size 12 gi they sent you by accident).

If you tell your students to do a kata 100 times then YOU do that kata a 100 times with them.  And most of all ..... if you are teaching actively and esp. for seminars then for gosh sake ... be in good enough condition to actually be able to move when you teach a lesson.  Show the lesson.   THROW the lesson like a real player once in a while.

I've seen many videos on the internet (and on DVD's I've bought and then either wanted to send back or contribute to a fitness studio as their teaching example) where someone with a good reputation for quality instruction shows a lesson or concept and while they talk about moving your center to affect the uke, they just stand there in all their dun-lop disease glory and don't move at all ... not one step.

In my view, when someone teaches like that it's a clear cut case of saying one thing but doing another.  "When you do scoobey waza then you should move and break uke's posture".  Yes ... but when you teach that idea shouldn't you set the example instead of just standing there and using only your arm motion to demo it?  How is a beginner going to learn by absorbing a bad eidetic picture of a one-eyed fat man (to steal a great line from a famous movie) standing there and using only arm motion like a windmill in a the middle of a wind farm?

Am I making sense here or am I making a big deal (omg .. there's that pun again) of this phenomena; aka "The Incredible Shrinking Gi".

Maybe and maybe not but IMO, if you're going to take money to teach then please be in good enough shape to demo what you got.  Yes, yes, yes .... I agree with making an allowance for someone truly old and in truly bad shape because even tho' they aren't doing a lot of ukemi these days they still have knowledge and add value.  For all of us there does  and will come a day when the calendar catches up, and when it will take us longer to get out of bed, tie our obi and stumble into our hakama than it does for congress to meet and spend a few billion here and there.  Until they invent a "forever young" pill that lets us live as long as little green dudes with pointy hairy ears we're all going to age.

But if you're still fairly young and if you're actively teaching and especially if you're traveling and doing seminars for pay then get in shape and stay in shape and more importantly, when you teach do some real work and show the youngsters how it's done.  Do "Younger Person Ryu" Aikido and not "Old Decrepid Fat Ryu" Aikido.

As a parting thought on this that I might explore in a part III ..... is one reason as to why I see so much criticism of Aikido's "deterioration" really due to the Western concept of "going soft and getting old" and NOT the concept of "Aikido doesn't really work"? 

I see so many films of Shioda and Ueshiba and Kotani and Tomiki and Ohba and their contemporaries in good shape well into old age and throwing the bejebbers out of the young players and moving and rolling and doing it up really well ..... teaching and leading by example.

Is American Aikido going into the tank because so many senior American Sensei (that are looked up to, respected and copied) are quite simply put, FAT, out of shape and unable to move ..... and that the younger players are looking at these obese, slovenly and out of shape Sensei NOT moving well on the mat and then unconsciously emulating that example and thinking that the poor level of body kinesthetics they are observing is how it is supposed to be done?

Interesting question isn't it?

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

February 2012

123. The Budo Curse of the Deadly Shrinking Gi - Part I

Ever surf the internet and see all the people you used to know and watch once upon a time?  And no, I don't necessarily mean people you personally trained with or old friends (although there could be a few of those in this category anyway) but rather; all those folks that you remember seeing in books, videos, dojos you visited, and seminars you attended.  Ever notice how difficult it must be to go thru' life and to have your gi attack you as it slowly shrinks in size until it appears ready to strangle you like an anaconda in bad sci-fi movie, and the front panel of your hakama looks about as wide as a gi-string when viewed against the background of your white gi?

I receive gazillions of email and phone calls from prospective students and multiple variations of one question in particular is posed to me on a fairly regular basis; "Do I have to be in shape to start?" ...... "I haven't worked out in years.  Do you think I can do this" ...... "I'm a "little" over-weight.  Is this for me?"

For this post the mystery of the deadly shrinking gi as it pertains to all those Sensei and Sempai out there won't be explored too very much (although it does pertain) .... I would prefer to expand this post and to do that later so that I can make some really snippy comments.  No ... for THIS post I want to answer the question.

The average age of my deshi is 30 to 40.  I'm 60 and my wife is 50.  I have high school kids and a retired businessman who is 70.  Most of my deshi didn't begin their Aikido career until after having been out of high school/college for several years during which time they likely didn't get much roadwork or marathon competitions done.  In short, they like most of us, are not in good shape (not bad necessarily but not good either).

In my experience a good dojo takes this into account for any beginner and only has each player do what they are capable of at that point in time.  So a beginner comes in and starts classes and finds even the aiki taiso (the warm-ups) to sometimes be a challenge.  Since Aikido is not a competion art like Kodokan Judo) then the ability of the curriculum to fold itself around the beginner player is easy and the out-of-shape beginner therefore can easily get started and learn without having to run 3 miles a day and train for an iron-man triathlon.

Over time the simple habit of coming to class, running thru' a well-thought regimen of warm-ups and then ukemi practice will begin the long process of getting the player in shape SLOWLY AND METHODICALLY.  Trying to do it overnight is never wise (unless the player) is already is good shape and is training anaerobically and aerobically somewhere else so the regimen of "a little tonight .. a little next time .. and the next" will, over time, reap great benefits for the player.

It's only after you start training and suddenly realize that going thru' aiki taiso and then ukemi and then doing a 90 minute class where you fall down and get up and fall down and get up and throw and move and fall and ....... is actually quite a workout even tho' it doesn't appear to be so.  If the class is allowed to pace themselves over that 90 minutes then they will, at their own pace, make real progress, get a lot of work done and develop better physical conditioning without being driven like a bunch of newbies at BUDS training.

The flip side to this is that once you actually begin to get into shape that if you lay out of training two or three weeks and then come back, that you wake up the next day sore.  The human body is very adaptable to both exercise and to non-exercise.  If you work out a little every class two or three times a week you'll reach a plateau and stay there.  If you get into shape and "fall off" that plateau then your body will adjust and "fall out of shape".  Moral is  .... train steadily and don't slack off.

As an example, that 70 year old I referred to took a lot of ukemi when he first began his training some 15 to 20 years ago so today I don't require him to take nightly ukemi nor do I worry about his ability.  During that period when he first started he did the same routine over time that everyone else did so he built core muscle group strength and developed an intuitive ukemi response.  Today, he is still in good shape, not because he trained like a maniac when he started but because he began slowly and over time built the muscles, habits and physical conditioning that is still with him today.  Every class he comes to he does a little bit this time ... and a little bit next time ... but he trains on a regular basis and always .... does a little bit.

His gi is not shrinking because he does a little bit tonight and by training slowly over a longish period of time he begins to develop what I refer to as "critical survival skills" .... the ability to survive a hard fall (he fell off a tree stump once and surprised his wife by not being hurt in the least) and stronger core muscle groups which assists movement, posture, gait, walking, etc.

What are the two thing that old people should fear the most (if they don't have their head buried that is)?  Falling and breaking a hip and having back pain and spinal issues.

Coming to class and conditioning the body over years of mat time can prepare you (the Aikido player) for these issues when you age.  Not fearing a fall and having stonger core muscles are critical with the lack of the skill sets and core-conditioning the two things that cause the most issues when we're old; and don't even mention a shrinking gi which really adds to the potential problems.

Come to class and train ... slowly and long term and efficiently .. but train.  Stay in shape, keep the weight in check, strengthen those core muscles and develop survival skills.

Next time we'll get big-time (pun) into the Sensei/Sempai issue of "The Shrinking Gi".

L.F.  Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

February 2012



122. Those Who Need It The Most Do It The Least

When we are little buggers and first learning to tie our shoe laces before we romp off to kindergarten it was just an impossible experience.  In between the dropped laces, clumsy fingers, impossibly convoluted and un-fixable knots, mom and dad telling us to do it again and again, the tears and frustrations, we finally reach a point where we just "give up" and relax and then almost magically, we can finally do it.  But it took practice and patience and finally, belief in the parental-units who are teaching us, along with faith in the instructions.  Martial arts are largely the same; and then some.

Over the last 12 years that I've run my own dojo, and the many years prior to that when I ran the mat for my prime Sensei, I have observed many types of students join class for lessons; many of whom were in law enforcement (including those working for federal acronyms) or  scarier yet, subject to violence of various sorts in their jobs and their daily existence.

These are the ones who need rational martial arts training the most, but in all too many cases, take advantage of the training the least.

Consider .......... a reserve police officer in Texas attends the reserve officers academy for training, during which they recieve a grand total of 6 to 10 hours of training in hand-to-hand.  That's six (6) to ten (10) hours on watch and not semester hours like in college.

One of my ex-training partners in Aikido and Jodo who retired from both his career in corporate security (as an ex-FBI agent under J. Herbert Hoover) and his martial arts training (he was older than I and with his wife finally retired to his dream home in the hill country) told a similar story about his time at the academy at Quantico.

Another ex-training partner in Aikido (sometimes I think I've been on the mat too long as I keep outlasting my training partners) was with one of those Federal acronyms better known as the DEA and was quite active in undercover work.

All told the same story and had basically the same response to the question; "So, just HOW many hours of training did you have in hand-to-hand while at the academy?"

The answer in all cases was pretty uniform and ranged anywhere from 6 to 20 or so hours (clock hours) of training.  The rest largely focused on procedures, certification as a law officer, first aid, how to draw your sidearm without shooting yourself in the foot, how to wear a coat, tie and sunglasses (J. Edgar was apparently pretty tight-assed about a lot of things), etc. and etc.   .... most of which, while important to professional level performance on the job, had little to do with an officer's self-defense when within the range of the 21 Foot-Tueller Rule or developing any kind of zanshin much less true martial skills.

Most of this (training emphasis) had little to do with reality and everything to do with who was training director at the time or what some white-shoe (attorney) had to say about avoiding lawsuits while getting the officer killed in the line of duty; death benefits in the long run being cheaper than the cost of a major law suit (the cynic's view of bureaucracy and the mindless bureaucrat).

This mind-set over time rubs off on the agent/officer who unfortunately begins to always fall back on the visuals/ego-factors of the position which provide "imagined" security and protection; the badge, the uniform, the side-arm, the dark sunglasses and the ear-bug and the security clearance.  All ego-boosters but providing protection from absolutely no-one other than already law-abiding citizens who don't pose a threat anyway.

Recently one of the deshi sent me a link to an article from a law enforcement site dealing with a new threat to law-enforcement ... the karambit; a small knife that can be rigged to automatically open when withdrawn from a hip pocket.  The method of attack is to be within essentally one to two arm's length and when asked for ID to hook a finger in the loop at the end of the knife and then to pull it out of the pocket and slash horizontally across the officer's face and throat.

After discussing it with the deshi and then reviewing the web site I thought to myself, "My God ... how easy is that" assuming of course that the officer is properly trained with internalized responses to begin with.

Seems that police training consists of a couple of hours of training in which one officer faces another, the trainer blows his whistle and then they have at it.  A couple of hours ... wow .... one can really develop some true martial skills here. 

People who work law enforcement or who work for an acronym need to spend a lot more time on the mat than a civilian since they are much more likely to be in harms' way on a daily basis and never know when their skills may be called into play.

So do they? ......... do they actually spend enough time on the mat?  Nope.  Not by a long shot.  If I were an acronym or a police officer I'd live at the dojo if Sensei let me and I would consistently train on a daily basis in everything offered: Aikido, grappling, jodo, kenjutsu, everything.

Karambit and the new, improved, felonious method of use .......  When asked for his ID he reaches  back with his right hand (even tho' 95% of the world is right handed and carries their wallet in their left hip pocket and not the right) so the officer misses this first clue.  His ID is on the wrong side but is on the correct side/weapon side for a right hander to draw it.  He can't strike unless he closes to no more than one arms' length so the officer misses the first index point (the distance).  His attack will either have to rise vertically from the hip to the face or come in horizontally with a slight upward diagonal so the officer misses the first and most important moment of self-defense; domination of the center-line and the most effective first-choice strike target ... the faces, eyes and throat of the knife-attacker.

For a seasoned martial artist this one is almost too easy with the only caveat here being that the trained martial artist cum defender has to be willing to seriously hurt the attacker since all the right responses have already been internalized.  The goal here is to stop the knife as it is being deployed.  After full deployment, the game  (and strategies/waza) changes so the first opportunity for the defender to strike is the most critical.

Officer Acronym on the other hand, with little to no training and totally insufficient practice time for full internalization has no chance to survive.  His academy's preference for use of badge, gun, taser, asp overrides all else and now the Tueller Rule results in Officer Acronym's injury or demise.  He reaches for a side-arm .. and is cut ... he reaches for the side arm but realizes that it's too late ... and is cut .. he panics and tries to close and grapple ... and is cut.

The other part of the problem is that sometimes Officer Acronym tries too hard.  Instead of picking one martial art to do focused training in he picks two, or three  ... always looking for that magic bullet.  Problem is, if Officer Acronym is training in two different art forms under two different Sensei then he potentially now has two different reflexes to the attack and goes into vapor lock.  It's almost better to have one and only one effective second rate reflex to the attack instead.  It may be the second best on the market, so-to-speak, but at least it is fully internalized, automatic and fully ingrained; as opposed to having two competing responses in their head.

Moral to the story (blog); pick the best art form you can find and spend as much time on the mat as possible and fully internalize your responses in order to stop the attack before it is fully deployed.  Do one martial art (and maybe complementary weapons form  ... Aikido and Jodo for example) and get good at it .... really good.

While one may legitimately argue that a civilian doesn't need hair-trigger responses to dangerous situations (assuming they try to avoid problems to start with) someone in law enforcement or who is a federal acronym cannot make that argument at all given their daily second-to-second exposure to the underbelly of society.

I could write for days on this topic.  Years on the mat, years teaching this material, experience in working with my old Sensei who at one time was head instructor to the local SWAT Team, experience in working with law enforcement, having on two separate occasions put together training programs for the DEA and for the Department of Diplomatic Protective Services (working in conjunction with Certified Police Instructors who actually started in Aikido before going into law enforcement), having experienced first hand the preference of immediate subconscious reflexive responses to sudden, unanticipated attacks out of no-where ............. have only strengthened my first response to anyone who has a problem in self-defense situations (esp. law and government) ........ stop lolly-gagging around, get on the mat, increase your training time, increase your mat hours, ask Sensei, ask other senior players, build reflexes, stop using the uniform, badge & gun as your first response, quit making excuses about having duty assignments (do the assignment & get back on the mat).

Train  ... or not ....

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei, Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

January 2012


28. Aauuuuummmmmm :-]

The boy was hot-wired like a hamster tied to a car battery.

That was the first thought that came into mind as my hatamoto described the scene at a local computer store as he attempted to pay out.

Hatamoto (we'll call him "Hat" for short for privacy) is at the check out counter at a the computer store.  He had just pushed his buggy, loaded to the gills with computer "stuff" to the checkout counter and in order to get there he had "motor-vated" past a whole slew of folks patiently awaiting their turn at running up their charge card balance.

"Hat" is filling out the paperwork and talking to the clerk when suddenly one of the "I'm waiting in line to spend money" folks screamed at him, "I'm going to kick your ........... credit card".  (That's not what he really said but I'm trying to nice here).

Mr. Credit Card Kicker then proceeds to get'him some "runny-mouth" (that's country talk for mouthing off when he should be keeping quiet) and after talking about how much he didn't like "Hat" spending money before he could, he got out of the Que' (I always liked the Brits and their funny abbreviations) and walked an incredible long way to stand just out of arms reach of "Hat" and get'him some more "runny-mouth" directed towards "Hat".

Long story 'kinda' short ............ "Hat" didn't have to work his Aikido magic on him because Mr. Credit Card Kicker walked away mumbling to himself, so "Hat" went to the parking lot, loaded his car and drove off to his office to hook up his new video game players.

When telling me this story, it wasn't to inform me of the nice customers down at the computer store; it was to tell me about him scaring himself.

He said that the entire time that Mr. Credit Card Kicker was yelling at him for absolutely no apparent reason and walking around to get closer to him to yell some more, he was absolutely calm and unconcerned and was not worried in the least and, was actually more concerned about doing some really serious things to Mr. Credit Card Kicker than he was about all the commotion.

Apparently this was the first time that "Hat" had this internal understanding of being "dead calm" inside.  I told him that this was a good thing.  Aikido is supposed to develop our ability to dispassionately step back and look at our opponent with no emotion being involved.  By reaching this important point in his Aikido development (only done by long-term, seriously focused training) he had effectively transcended emotion and now could make a studied decision as to whether engage, or not engage, the "enemy".

More important, this decision could be made based NOT in emotional distress but instead by evaluting whether Mr. Credit Card Kicker (or someone like him at work, on the street, in the beer hall, where ever) was just gettin'him some "runny-mouth" and could therefore safely be ignored like a parent chosing to ignore a kid wanting candy at the supermarket; or whether it was an actual and serious threat to personal safety that had to be dealt with.

Long-term, seriously focused training; there is no other way.

The benefits of Aikido will never fully manifest themselves until they suddenly appear as a wonderful surprise.

Come To Class

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

14. The Family Affair

Having just gone through a hurricane and attempting to keep everyone in the dojo in some form of communications and still not having electric at the dojo (so classes are temporarily suspended for the time being) I sent out email that I know about half the dojo could receive, track and respond to either by email at home (they didn't lose power for long unlike me), or at the office (didn't lose power either so the boss cracked the whip, hurricane or no) or by BlackBerry (which I and most professional level business people use for staying in touch at all times).

Aikido teaches self-defense, Aikido teaches self-confidence and Aikido aside from being fun, is good physical fitness as it merges and unites body, mind and spirit.

Something that I noticed, however, as the last two weeks of hurricane joy ("oh happy, happy, joy, joy") is that Aikido, at least amongst serious players, tends to develop family outside the family.

As everyone came back on-line, those that never lost or just got back power, water, lights, phones, internet, invited those without to come stay with them, even if they didn't know each other all that well or were still fairly new to the dojo.

Aikido is incredibly good at teaching players how to learn to trust others (another semi-hidden benefit of long term training).

After all, if you trust someone to NOT dislocate your elbow during training then you learn by default that you can trust them in your home.

Aikido gives you that family you never had before.  You can't pick your parents and siblings nor can you choose your blood next-of-kin.  But you can choose your Aikido family.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
September 2008