Martial Ethics 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

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


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

142. How to Wear Your Black Belt – Part I (Humility)

Yeesss!  Today I made You-dawn-sha!

I am now an 85th Dan, a Masta’, a Stud-Muffin!

“Attention K-Mart Shoppers, the Stud-Muffin has entered the room, please look for the blue light for your personalized shikishi”.

Sorry.  You ain’t none of those and neither am I, and I’m the Sensei with almost 50 years behind me with black belts in 3 different martial arts forms and senior teacher status in 2 of those.

Making Yudansha (graded dan) which starts at Shodan is, if isolated and taken strictly on its’ own, a great, repeat, great accomplishment and puts the wearer of the coveted black belt in a rarefied part of the atmosphere; but I’m a “Big Picture” kind-of-guy and in the greater scheme of things it is just another step on the way to a higher plane of existence.

I keep statistics and in the 19-odd years I’ve run my own dojo I have logged about 1,000 people who have either kept me on the phone for 30 minutes of discussion, come to visit the dojo, tried out a free class but never came back, actually signed up but never paid anything, signed up and paid money but didn’t last the first 60 days, or who signed up, lasted long enough to get a promotion or two and then quit.

1,000 people out of which I have a total of less than 20 or so active black belts and a dozen or so who would live at the dojo, if I let them.  So if one considers that the real education doesn’t start until Shodan (the term after all means 1st step) then the percentage of people who actually start the trip to Yoda-hood (and then stay with it long enough to really accomplish something with the accrued skill sets) is about 2/10th’s of 1%.  In case you slept through your high school algebra class, that’s not real high even if we’re generous by using the commonly cited statistics form various MA magazines  (of all dojo and all MA styles) of about 5%.

So why can’t you consider yourself a stud-muffin (or studlette-muffin in the case of the ladies) if you are part of that <5% who has enough self-discipline and desire to commit to and stay with a long term study like Aikido?

Humility is why, plain and simple.  Remember that Budo is all about self-improvement, about taking our natural potential and maximizing all that we can be (with the expenditure of enough hard work paid for with blood, sweat and tears), improving mind-body-spirit and by unifying them, our becoming a whole that is greater than the sum of the original parts.

Take a look at one word, “Spirit”.  It has little to do with the mind (that’s all about intellect) and it has little to do with body (that’s all about the physical).  The spirit and its’ improvement in making us a better person, is all about really old fashion things; ethics, humility, self-discipline, morality, honesty, not doing things in excess, the golden rule (do unto others…..), and all the complicated topics Aristotle writes on in Nicomachean Ethics which states in simplest terms that in order to in order to become "good", one should not simply study what virtue is; one must actually be virtuous in one’s daily activities at all times, whether those activities are comprised of issues of reputation (how one acts in public) or character (how one acts when you think that nobody’s looking).

Notice that nowhere in there are any terms like arrogance, abuse of others, taking advantage of others, demanding worship, ordering a junior student to give your left foot a tongue bath, or emotional cannibalism.

This is especially true of the halo effect that sometimes happens when we make black belt; we get a halo, or a small handful of lower level student body (kyu ranks) we just came from puts a halo on our head whether we want it there or not.  In other words we become overly impressed with ourselves (we believe our own press clippings) or the kohai begin to look up to us like a child looking at their father or a teeny-bopper looking up to the latest rock-star hero (or we imagine that they do, thus making us a legend in our own mind).

Humility, humility, humility is the only thing that keeps the new black belt from going ballistically egomaniacal (or as the pundit said, “drinking our own bath water”).

Making “First Step” to someone like me who has 50 years on the mat is nothing other than a sign that now I can really start to teach you some neat stuff.  It doesn’t mean that you are anything more than a beginner or that you are more than one small step removed from the kyu/colored belt that you used to be.

So, in order to keep that ego in check and enlarge your usable quotients of humility (and humanity) remember three things;

First, Shodan translates as “first step” so in reality, you are still a beginner with much to learn and you are a very long way from understanding all there is about Aikido and martial arts in general,

Second, since you are just a beginner, a newly minted black belt, then you don’t know what you don’t know.  In and of itself that should be enough to keep that ego in check and approach every class with an empty tea cup.

Lastly, the black belt means that someone helped you climb the ladder to get you there so you have to return the favor in the same positive fashion as the people who helped you.  Failure to do so means that few black belts above you in rank will likely want to waste any more personal time on a walking ego-trip.

Humility will get you much in life and make you many friends.  It’s one of the more important qualities we all look for in friends, spouses, ukes and the Sensei.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

January 2017

125. Interlude - Peace Be Upon the Mat or, A Snap-Comment for a Friday

Today's "Snap Comment" as we clean-up the work before closing down for the week and reflect upon the eventful last 8 days.

Preparing & packing to make my first MA seminar road trip in several years.  In fact, it is the first in almost 15 years in which I will be a student instead of the feature Sensei.  I'm looking forward to it since it will be enjoyable to be able to just sit there and learn instead of spending three days being on point.  Shucks .... I even washed my fundoichi for the trip.  Sometimes being the Sensei is a little stressful since you feel that you have to really focus on presentation (and wearing a clean gi) and setting a good example for the deshi and the visitors and guests to see me and to emulate my presentation as Sensei.  After all, if they are there to learn from you then you have to wear your best face and uphold your reputation.

This been an eventful week for me.  I've expelled two senior Yudansha for cause, I've picked up a half-dozen new deshi during a bad economy, my insurance agency had an upswing this week, two old deshi whom I thought were gone both came back with compliments for how I run the dojo (after seeing everyone else out there in Budo-Land) and have re-upped and I picked up a very experienced Iwama Ryu Nidan who apparently really liked what he saw and is excited about new learning opportunities.  On the other hand, I'm personally excited about working with someone with a decade in a different form of Aikido (but that is so similar) which reaffirms my view of hard work on the basics and exacting precision.  I view it as an opportunity to expand my understanding and more particularly to expose my senior people to someone who brings experiences to the mat they don't have (yet).

When I was first in Aikido many years ago I had the great fortune to train under several people including a man who had an impeccable reputation for fairness, objectivity, ethics and moral behavior (in addition to having a dynamite foot sweep and Aikido randori game).  I stayed with him as his student for about 20 years after having moved to Houston because he was, in many people's minds, THE exemplar of what a Judo/Aikido Sensei should be in how to teach and how to treat people fairly.  Even after a disastrous divorce those of us who helped him thru' it commented to each other that he really was what he presented himself as being (a real Budo man who did what it took to survive, be positive and to move on with his training and his teaching).

Sadly, as time went by and life placed its burdens upon him, as it does us all, he changed; gradually over time but the change was apparent.  Before, his policy had been to never discuss with his students or guests the big three forbidden topics (sex, religion, politics) or to criticize any other persons beliefs or actions (as long it didn't impact the mat).  It was his feeling, as I remember, that to do so would pollute the atmosphere of the dojo and not only inhibit learning but also create friction between everyone there.

As an example of this; how would I discuss politics in my dojo when statistically 50% of my deshi voted for Obama and the other 50% voted for McCain?  How could I, or anyone in the dojo, make any kind of compliment or critical remark without offending the "other" 50%?  I compliment the POTUS and 50% think I'm crazy or I criticize the POTUS and 50% think I'm being too critical.  So my solution is to not discuss it nor do I allow anyone else to discuss it.  If any conversation occurs then it occurs off to one side or outside the dojo  between me and someone whose predilictions I am completely aware of so that there is no offense taken or given ...... and voices are low so that the mat never hears any comments.

He began to go out of his way to start arguments; monologues really that no one could object to since to do so would end our Aikido careers.  It became burdensome to be forced to sit and listen to our (or other people's) religions be attacked or their sexual preferences being attacked, or to be directly criticized for our career choice or the fact that we took our kids to church.

After watching a good friend and a great dojo fall into a world of being critical of other peoples religious belief, sexual preference, family issues it created in me, and many others I know, the decision to not engage in that behavior.

Running a dojo (or a martial arts organization) doesn't give us carte blanche to conduct ourselves like we're a radio host doing political commentary.  Go on AM radio sometimes and listen to those men/women who do so.  It wears you down and over time makes you just a negative as they are.  Some of the monologues I remember were cast as being "just in fun", "not really serious" or a "teaching moment" but for those of us who were the targets (or the witnesses) it became more than that.  Sometimes if anyone objected then we were accussed to being "thin-skinned" and "not willing to open our minds to his lessons".

So all these years later I've made the conscious decision to not run my dojo in that fashion and to try best I can to avoid those who do .... keeping my opinions on sex, religion & politics to myself and totally off the mat.  I don't allow others to bring that negativity into the dojo either which explains one of my expulsions this week of a 10 year student this week; his negativity having no place in Budo.

So what's the answer?  Simple.  There isn't one.  The best any of us can do is try to avoid the endless political discussions, comments on religion and sex-based jokes that seen so endemic today, esp. on social media.  I may even have to start de-friending people and re-cast the ways in which I engage in social media. 

I fail to understand how I can engage in social media or plain old fashioned gossip, loop in my students, and then proceed to express myself on the internet in the same argumentative fashion as did my teacher face-to-face all those years ago .... such is the communicative decay we now see due to no longer having to personally stand in front of and face the Christian we are saying "F____ Jesus" to or the atheist we are calling "crazy" or the political opponent we just described as "stupid" and "uninformed".

The longer I run a dojo, the older I get, the more I find myself willing to terminate relationships and to call people out for their negativity (masquerading as "humor" or "teaching moments").  Life has simply become too complex for endless negativities and once it spills into Budo and the martial arts relationships with students and associates it begins to have negative impact on what all of us, as martial artists, claim to be which is teachers and exemplars .... or just friends.

And with that said, I now find that I must be certain to live up to my observations and to no longer engage in the temptations to which all of us, including me, sometimes fall victim to.

Next blog-insanity .... Part Tre' of "The Incredible Shrinking Gi" ........

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

February 2012


121. But Mommy, It's My Turn To Win!

To continue my New Year's thematic ........ the truth is truly extreme.

How many times have you heard the phrase, "As a martial artist you must learn to transcend victory and defeat"?

Wow.  If I heard that once from Sensei I heard it a thousand times ... maybe 10,000.  Problem is .... it's largely a lie ... or a falsehood ... or too optimistic and unrealistic  ..... depending on how critical you feel like being today.  It just sounds all "zen-ny" and "new-agey" and "aikido-esque"; sorta like saying, "When you can snatch the church key from my hand you are ready for happy hour."  ...... 

Church-key-can-and-bottle-openerHumans didn't survive the last million years or so of evolution as we shed our hair, lost our tails and climbed down out of the trees and started walking upright and learned how to talk and use tools by not being competitive survivors.  We survived because bottom line; we are highly competitive creatures who got here by competing with nature, with animals, with the weather and with each other.  It's only the fact that we developed abstract and critical thought processes that we haven't killed off the planet or made ourselves extinct ..... yet.

Not competitive you say?  Bwahaha .. don't make me laugh and call you  a liar to your face.

Standing in line at a great restaurant that won't take reservations, waited for 2 hours and the next person called for a table ahead of you got there AFTER you did.  Roll-over or immediately ask the host WTF?

Studying hard in school, took the tests, scored the same perfect 100%, straight A+ scores as one other person but told THEY are going to be the Valedictorian and you're not?  WHAT?

Working that dream job for the big corporation that has one slot open for promotion and a 20% raise in pay.  You have seniority and you've been doing that job anyway for the last 90 days as a stand-in until management decided who to promote ..... and the guy who sits in the cube next to you with half your experience and half your time on the job gets the nood.  And you're happy about that?

How many examples do you want of just how competitive all of us really are?

You want to win just like I do.  The problem is that an overly strong desire to win is largely out of place on the mat when training, especially when doing randori of any kind.  It leads to inappropriate behavior, injuries, hurt feelings, belligerent attitudes and anger.  So this is where Sensei says, "You must learn to transcend victory and defeat"  ...... (must be said in deep booming voice with echos in background like a mystic living in a cave)  ...... you know ...... one bowl, one robe, one koan ..... oh and throw in some mist slithering along the ground like in an old B&W werewolf movie.

So what do we do about our competitiveness?  Well, my solution was one I could never voice to my Sensei as I don't think he'd really understand nor appreciate.  I want to win all the time but ... I equally want to lose all the time.

If I want to win then I'll do my best.  If I want to lose all the time the it's likely that I'll not do my best or, will hold back so that Sensei is not critical.  So the rub here is that if I have the wrong view of "transcending" then if I win I may start feeling guilty about being better at randori/kata so I'll hold back and do badly so that everyone likes me and I follow Sensei' directions.  Now I'll never do my best and never improve.  Judo gets past this with no competition in class but with shiai at tournaments.  Aikido, being a non-competitive martial art (tanto shiai be damned) has no such outlet so randori in class can become an issue.

In Aikido randori (the toshu, tanto kind with no tournament or competitive aspect of that kind involved) I strive for a balance.  I want to win as much as I want to lose.  I want to lose as much as I want to win. 

If I can keep it at 50-50 then both benefit me.  I have the satisfaction in randori of "winning" (more properly translated as "doing the best I can even if the other guy is less able than I am and can neer catch me.")  But if I lose then I have a very positive attitude about that because I can take that experience and improve myself.  It becomes a "win-win" even when I lose and my training partner who just took kote-0gaeshi on me 37 times in a row is teaching me and showing me where my weaknesses are so that my subconscious mind can begin to make those little corrections in my footwork and timing and posture that will, in the long run, make me a much better Aikido player.  If this is the case and my attitude, then how can "losing" to him be a bad or a negative thing?

So now "winning" or dominating the other person in randori teaches me how to be technically best and most effective against a lesser "opponent/uke/player" ...... while losing to that other person shows me my weaknesses so that I can correct and improve upon them.  Both "winning" and "losing" then become positives and I can positively direct and focus my competitive side while not feeling badly or fretting over my "I lost" side.

It is certainly true that in a dojo there will always be those naturals who have spent the time to become better and that in a heads-up randori scenario they will most always come out on top.  However, as long as everyone acknowledges that "winning" is not that "bad thing" that we're told it is and as long as the better players always take the time to assist and teach the lesser players how to improve and grow and become that "better" player, then a positive atmosphere is developed and maintained in which "winning" in randori is not a negative and "losing" in randori is simply nothing more than a challenge to oneself to work to learn to do better and is always, always a positive learning experience for all involved.

Randori is a critical part of training and of learning.  "Winning' therefore is not something to be avoided and "losing" also is not something to be dreaded.  The two are nothing more than two sides of the same coin and each should be valued for its appropriate place in the Aikido paradigm.  One cannot exist without the other and both can, and should be, made positive learning tools for the true Bushi/Aikido player.


L.F. Wilkinson Sensei, Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

January 2012

112. Lipstick, A Tutu and a Smiley Face ......

Lipstick, a tutu and a smiley face ...... bwahaha .... the envelope pleeeeze .... wakka wakka ....

.... You can put lipstick on a pig ....


... and it's still just a pig.

You can put a tutu on a pug ....

.... and it's still just a dog that can't dance and it likely as not put the "U" in the word ugly.  (My kid owns a pug .. I should know).

And when a new student walks in the door and signs up while smiling broadly ....


.... well, sometimes it's sincere .... and sometimes it ain't ...

Many years ago my Sensei/mentor and I were having a discussion on "newbies" and I asked what I thought was a really simple question.   (Bwaha ... simple my dead aunt Grace's very ample left butt cheek) ...

My question was essentially, "How do we avoid teaching Aikido and the power that underlies it to evil people?  Won't we be enabling evil deeds outside the dojo?"

His immediate answer (one that later that week greatly expanded into a full monologue on how the mat really works) was simple ... "Nope."

Sometimes when someone walks thru' the door as a monjin we get an immediate read that says this person is trouble.  An experienced Sensei can see the issues before they arise and generally difuse them before it becomes physical by being matter of fact, giving very short answers to questions and just generally discouraging any interest in what's going on in class. 

Sometimes I'll inquire as to what they want in the MA and the answer will be something totally alien to the Aiki-Verse so at that point I'll drag out my list of other local dojo and Sensei and make a recommendation (grappling, competition, board breaking, head banging, jumping off the roof, wearing black PJ's, etc.) as to what they think they are looking for.  No harm.  No foul.  And we both get what we want; I keep my tranquil training environment and he gets a school to go to.   Win-Win.

Occasionally tho' the person walking in the door isn't broadcasting the dark side

or anything else that's really a face slapper and you decide to let them start simply because they are genuflecting all over the dojo and are repetitively stating how serious they are about learning Aikido because of ....blah, blah, blah ... all the normal things in the books and movies.  You don't sense anything untoward so take the check, wear the keikogi, bow-on and get to work.

Sometimes (most of the time actually) this works pretty well simply because (as it turns out) they were serious and honest.  What set off the alarm bells was just their being intimidated by all the strange people doing ukemi, joint locks and strangulation's and other weirdness commonly seen in a room full of budding Budoka inflicting mayhem on each other.

You were detecting their personal insecurities at work and their fear of the dojo shimmering thru' their interest.  And as it turns out after they settle in and stop being goofy and learn to focus and start building confidence, they begin to show all the signs of eventually becoming a real Aikido player with the potential of becoming a senior teacher someday.

When people first start a new activity they are trying to show their best face and convince all around them of their sincerity and potential value to the group they are seeking acceptance with.  This is pretty normal tribal and peer group behavior as they look first for admittance, and then for acceptancea and then begin working towards reputation enhancement and trust. 

It's only AFTER  the admittance & acceptance phases that they begin to feel really comfortable and at home and the mask comes off as they move towards reputation enhancement (thinking that who they are deep down inside has been fully accepted).  They just don't realize that the group accepted the "face" they came in with and not the true underlying character which they are now seeing in full for the first time.  They are sucha flawed person that they just can't see the truth even when confronted with it.

They can wear all the lipstick, pretty clothes and smiles you can think of but ... a pig is still a pig and a pug still can't dance and a person with evil intent or bad character and ethics is still ..... not a nice guy.

What Sensei observed (and probably your dad and granddad too since both of mine told me the same thing when I was a kid) is that the mask comes down when they feel at home and in control of their immediate environment.  They begin to feel so comfortable that they forget that others are watching them.  Sometimes, they become so comfortable that they begin acting arrogantly, as if they own the mat and begin telling everyone how to do waza that others have been doing correctly for years.  It's at that point the occasional bad joke crops thru' or the nasty snidness and snarkyness appears or the downright abusiveness shows itself.

The phrase is "You cannot hide your true character on the mat."

Two definitions that I see occasionally in newspapers and the like are:

  • Reputation - how we act when we know others are watching
  • Character - how we act when there is no one else in the room but us.

To those I would add the Aikido corollary:

  • Character - how we observe Budo and share our positive attitude with others in the midst of long practices and when we are tired and not carefully parsing our words and actions and how we take 5 more minutes to help someone else learn even tho' all we want to do is get out of our hakama and go home and how we act supportively and not in a denigrating fashion

This is the reason that Sensei said "Nope" all those years ago.  No matter how hard they try, at some point their true nature pops up for all to see and their egocentricity is hung right out there and just can't be missed even by a blind person. 

Someones true nature and character can be a force for good and for positive actions and outlooks ... or it can be evil or simply negative and destructive.

Either way, no Sensei (unless they are evil themselves) ever has to worry about producing high level players who will be abusive outside the dojo since eventually, well before they learn anything of real power, their true self will stand before you for judgement and they simply will not last long enough on the mat to learn anything of value that can be used against others.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston TX

July 2011

105. Who Are You?

Funny question isn't it; who you are?

During a conversation I had with some fellow Yudansha recently the topic of the environment came up; the political environment that is, except in the sense of energy policy.  One comment made centered around the idea of knowing people who are ok to be around (I guess even be friends with) until the topic of "Save the Whales" is breached.

The rub seems to be that they (the greenie or the "environmentalist") gets all hot and bothered every time the topic of energy policy, environmentalism, conservation and all the rest comes up.  And having had more than a small handful of these sorts in my life, likely as not they are the ones who seem to hook onto every opportunity to "discuss" it.

Problem ..... and think about this for one second or maybe two or three .... standing before you is an animated and committed person who objects to the use of coal to generate electricity, the use of natural gas, the use of fracing to get to the natural gas, drilling offshore (or onshore for that matter), the use of nuclear, the generation of CO2, the use of old fashioned light bulbs, on and on ad nauseum.

Well, that's ok with me believe it or not.  I grew up in the country with the nearest town literally miles away.  My backyard was a pasture full of cattle and horses and early some mornings I could walk onto my back porch with a cup-o-joe with the steam rising from the cup and ground fog laying low and see deer grazing on the edge of the yard munching on St. Augustine grass or the mesquite beans hanging low on the tree while the mourning dove cooed from their nests in the live oak trees.  Suffering thru' puberty in such a "close to God" environment gives one a real appreciation for the beauty of nature and the need to protect it.

But, we used electricity and had air conditioning (finally .... when I was about 13 or 14).  We drove work trucks, jeeps and SUV''s (a Chevy Suburban or a crew-cab wasn't called that back then) that got bad mileage because we had to.  Didn't mean that we didn't clean up behind ourselves (we did).  Didn't mean we went around crapping up the country side (we didn't).  It simply meant that we had to temper our love of nature with the practicalities of work and life and we didn't gripe about the oil companies drilling for the oil to drive the vehicles or the natural gas to fire the power plants.

So now, there is this over-paid, over-sexed, over-educated, enviro-nut standing there lecturing you on the need to NOT use coal, natural gas, oil, gasoline, nuke, drill in ANWAR, drill in the Gulf of Mexico, process oil shale or oil sands, generate any CO2, on and on.  And while you are standing there unable to get a word in edgewise to stop the insanity ... (like, "Say, how about those Astros" and "Wanna go get a cold one?") ...  it suddenly strikes you like a jo in the back of the skull.

This guy drives a BIG SUV that gets about 5 gallons to the mile (a Hummer or one of those really large Dodges or Fords that's half pick-up and half-SUV and can carry a family of 12) AND he lives in a large 4 or 5 bedroom house even tho' he doesn't have kids (or the kids are all gone to school) AND he and his wife (and kids if they are still at home) ALL have  ... (1) a cell phone   ...   (2) an IPod  ...  (3) a lap-top   ..   (4) color laser printers on every desk  ..  (5) a High Def Plasma big screen in every bedroom WITH a home theater hooked-up   ..  (6) an AC that runs 24/7 set at about 70 degrees (whether they're home or not)   ..  (7) two to three cars in the drive way (mom and all the kids need transport to get to that manicure and massage and to meet the girls for that Vegan lunch)   ...   (8) a pool in the back with all the hot tubs and heating pool water and fancy lights  ..   (9) expensive pedigree dogs in the back that eat only custom food that could feed a family in India for a month ... and ... on and on and on and  .....

So while you're thinking about their energy heavy, environmentally expensive extravagent  life style they loudly and vehemently rag on "evil oil companies" and "greedy electric utilities" and "people who drive THOSE cars" and etc. etc. etc.

So Sensei      .....      this is Aikido HOW specifically?

Think about this for a moment. 

Aikido and the MA state that ideally there must be a balance in who we are and how we live and how we practice.  There must be balance and ethics in how we live, treat others, work  and train cooperatively, view our training partner, teach and act supportively of others, be non-critical when being positive is a better path to take.  But standing before you is a person who lives exactly the opposite of what they purport to believe in and they make no bones in telling how superior their ideals are and do not hesitate to criticize those that they hold guilty.  In essense; they hold ideals that they are unwilling to abide by and will actively go out of their way to be a doom-sayer; a very negative path to take and one that over time can become self-destructive.

They do this even tho' their entire life-style is dependent upon the "evil-doer's" and you know .... you know ...  that if pressed on the subject that they would NEVER agree to give it all up, live a consistent and coherent life and go back to a victory garden in the back, no tv, cell phones, computers or high-def tv's and instead burning candles and no air conditioning and conserving and recycling everything they can.

Now I ask you ........... is that hypocrisy ... or is that hypocrisy?  And more importantly, do you see anything deeply unsettling in the character of a person who loudly says one thing while doing another and who teaches their children to be equally hypocritical and bi-polar?

If they could only see the need to be practical while still doing reasonable things to help the environment and developing cleaner energy sources over time instead of acting (as my grand mother put it) all "high-and-mighty".  My Grandmother Maude had a saying for folks like that; "That little so-and-so can just kiss ole' Rose."  (I never ever heard her cuss and that offer of letting you take that kiss was about as close as I ever heard her get.)

Would you leave your money on the dresser of your bedroom and your sick and unconscious child in the bed and then give them the key and tell them you have to go out of town for the day on emergency business and would they please, please help you out?  Could you reeeeaallly trust someone who is so blantantly bi-polar in how they wear their public face but live their private life    .....    or would a small itch in the back of your head make you not want to turn your back on them for very long?  Would you want to offer them your elbow while training in Aikido on the mat?  Would you .... really?

Think about and make your own descision.  I for one tho' tend to find that eventually I scrub people like that out of my life.  Life is too short to put up with that kind of hypocritical aggravation either outside the dojo .... or on the mat.

Coherency.  Self-honestly.

If nothing else Aikido to me means becoming a whole human being and living a life in balance. 

Understanding the need to study the sword and the pen both. 

Looking for the idealistic without loosing sight of the realities.

Without living a life in balance you cannot become a complete human.

Just a thought.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

April 2011

82. Please 'Splain Me Sensei Part 5

SPB:  OK Grasshopper .... sum it up so far for us ....

GD:  May I paraphrase?

SPB:  Of course.  Just get with it.  Quit sitting on ready and rocking on go!

GD:  Hai Sensei ...........

First, every class offers us an opportunity to learn whether that learning be how to be a better student (kohai), how to be a better teacher (sempai), or a new and wonderful waza that will allow us to walk on top of bamboo sprouts.

We should have a positive attitude and outlook and view working with our kohai as part of the giri of others having taught us in the beginning.  We should enjoy working with the kohai as much as working with the sempai since both offer us much growth opportunity; even if we do not immediately see it.

We should be humble and not act like a know-it-all since all of us, including you, still have much to learn.

SPB:  Smile when you say that partner ...........

GD:  Hai Sensei.

SPB:  True enough however so on with it ........

GD:  I have to be in the game and set goals and find ways to achieve the goals.

SPB:  How?

GD:  Find someone to take ukemi?

SPB:  Yes Grasshopper Deshi, find someone to take ukemi.  It is up to you to set a training schedule, find an uke, make time to train and get with it otherwise you'll become the world record holder for greatest number of decades as Ikkyu.  I cannot spoon (chopstick) feed you.  A Sensei is much like a sushi cutter going omakase on you.  He lays it out and you must learn to savor the flavor and learn the lesson.