Goal Setting, Self-Motivation & Self-Discipline Feed

144. Drive, Cook, Wipe, Fart

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

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

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

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

Yeah.  Me too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WTF?  Is Sensei serious?  WTH?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No … More … Excuses.


L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

February 2017

141. MA Training-Positive Attitude

We are what we eat, or so they say.  Given that we’re not speaking of food here it would be more appropriate to say, “We are what we think” or, “How we think is how we act, and what we become.”

This should be of little to no surprise to anyone so I want you to think about it for a second.

How many times during your life have you known people who, for some unknown reason, had the ability to attract everyone to them?  You liked being around them all the time.  Being around them made you feel like you were a battery and just got plugged into the charger and now you were glowing with a full 9 volts; maybe 12 depending on whether you are running a flash light or a station wagon.

Funny thing is, these individuals probably weren’t voted “Most Popular” or “Most Likely to Succeed” since those are political accomplishments and generally have little to do with success in life.  These individuals were just ordinary people who might play sports, maybe did drama or debate (or not), who might have been the person at the water cooler at the office that everyone asked advice of or enjoyed sharing coffee with. 

The thing that made them different is that they had a truly positive attitude and a big smile about 95% of the time (all of us deserve that 5% of just having a bad day on occasion because the planets are out of alignment).  That consistently positive attitude made it easy to be around them and better yet, they glowed with positive “vibes” to such a point that if you felt bad or down in the mouth then they always had a supporting statement or gesture for you that helped just a little bit.

Now think about your life outside the dojo.  Think about each and every person that is a burden to associate with; that has a negative attitude most of the time; that enjoys, that loves, that revels in discussing politics or complaining about their boss or neighbor or co-worker; or just likes to get in some kind of hairy discussion about ANYTHING because they get to express themselves and voice opinions.  For them, the act of engaging in the discussion and drawing other people in validates (in their mind) their existence as a human being and if confronted with that accusation/reality they simply deny it.

That’s the really obvious version of the negative personality.  Now how about the not so obvious?

The not so (obvious) is what I described to my Sensei many years ago (probably about 25 years back) as an “emotional vampire”.  I coined the term when Sensei and I were discussing up and coming high Dan promotions (4th to 6th Dan and up) and one specific person’s name popped up.  The discussion pertained to why no one liked that person even though they were very competent and a highly skilled technician.  I told Sensei that I considered them to be an emotional vampire because their self-esteem was so poor that they needed other people to both validate them and to support them emotionally every time they had their weekly drama.  They were someone who so severely drained your energy by requiring your support and your continual positive comments (needed to outweigh their negative outlook) that when you finally parted company with them you just felt tired and drained (“Hey!  Is it Happy Hour yet?  Is the sun over the yardarm?  NURSE!).

I was impressed that Sensei was impressed.  It had never occurred to him to consider the issue in that aspect and we both agreed that it was pretty accurate.  I had just come off-the-cuff with that description and he took it into a couple of full discussions both off and on the mat.  He had just then formed the opinion that these “emotional vampires” negatively impacted his entire teaching effort and began to discipline deshi (or expel) those who couldn’t maintain a positive line of thought and behavior.

I really need to acknowledge here that all of us on occasion will come to train and have just had a really bad day and that’s ok.  Even as Sensei I’ve done that on occasion too because after all; Sensei, Mrs. Sensei, the Hatamoto, all the Yudansha and each and every player on the mat are all human and sometimes the daily struggles and life’s vicissitudes just get to us every once in a while.  And that’s just part of life.

The personality that I am referring to here as being the issue is the one that exudes negative vibes EACH AND EVERY TIME THEY WALK INTO THE DOJO.  They just bleed negativity, and neediness, and their shoes slosh with self-pity with every step taken as the need drips off them.

So the bottom line is this.

I, as Sensei, could really care less about anyone’s family life, business problems, or personal issues as it is likely not my business (unless you care to share and unless we have a close personal relationship outside the dojo and off the mat).  All of us, myself and Mrs. Sensei (my other half) included, have issues that we deal with everyday and that we never bring into the dojo or onto the mat with us.  Doing a “dump” so-to-speak is completely unfair to everyone in the dojo who comes only train and not to be my or your emotional counselor.  We are, after all, here to teach martial arts and not be your support group.

As Sensei however, I do care about the impact on the mat and on the other players that an “obvious” or a “not-so-obvious” negative person can have on everyone around them.

So, I’ll give everyone the self-same advice that my father and my Sensei both gave me way too long ago (time flies, one day you’re a cocky teenager and the next you’ve lost your hair and what’s left is turning grey).  My father was right and funny thing is; so was Sensei.  So please consider this:

“Go into each and every moment of your life with a positive attitude, positive outlook, and a positive & optimistic view of the future.  If you at least try to think, be and act positive all the time, even when you are in the throes of deep depression, you will eventually find that the positive begins to outweigh the negative.  Acting positive will, over time, actually produce a positive person.  You will create your own positivism and it will push away the negative vibes.  You are what you think you are and what you want to be.”

And once you get this positive way of life (“do” if you like) down pat, the dojo will become (for you) the way in which you create it.  During periods of my life when I was the most depressed, overworked, underpaid and under loved, the dojo literally became my only sanctuary because I knew that the second I walked into the door, that I would have my hair blown back by all the positive vibes coming off the mat and the smiles of people who were happy to see me and who wanted to train.  Funny thing is, more of the time than what I want to admit, I didn’t even know their last name.  We were just friends and training partners and that was all that mattered.

The positive attitude enabled me to learn faster and to actually enjoy class much, much more than I ever had before.  I looked up one day and was 7th Dan and still can’t remember how I got here.  It just happened in the midst of everything.

Let the dojo become that one place in your life where the positives throw down, pin, and then choke out the negatives.

Or to paraphrase Forest Gump, “Positive is as positive does”.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

November 2016

134. Rules of Life

Getting set to hit the blogger trial over the summer after a spring vacation and ran across this but cannot remember where; but it is certainly worth sharing now that spring is over and summer is upon us.

3 Simple Rules of Life:

  • If you do not go after what you want, you'll never have it.
  • If you do not ask, the answer will always be no.
  • If you do not step forward, you'll always be in the same place.


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

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

119. I Know All There Is to Know

As I posted last time; the truth really is extreme and as humans, we tend to avoid it as long as it doesn't catch up to us.

Fred (it could be an Ethel, I just like the name Fred as it sounds a little "non-serious")  is an Aikido player and has spent years on the mat before finally reaching that pinnacle of achievement ........... senior black belt-hood.  Actually, his rank isn't all that high but within his dojo he has become one of the seni0rs on the mat.  He is so highly ranked that when invited to learn new and stratospheric kata that he shows a slight ... shall we say ... demure hesitation. 

Demure?  Of course since he doesn't want Sensei to think him "uncommitted".

Hesitance?  That's the reaction you get when you ask him to do some extra work on that new and more difficult material.  It's subliminal and difficult to detect but there none-the-less.

So, what's that all about?

Humans in the dojo sometimes have the tendency to make a senior rank and then they begin to enjoy the position that comes with it including the authority granted them by Sensei, the admiration and respect of the junior players and in some extreme cases ... the hero worship from impressionable beginners who have no MA exposure and no seasoning.  In my last dojo I observed this behavior as it led to senior players beginning to farm the mat for sex from juniors (pretty detestable in IMO as people come to learn and not be subjected to "Happy Hour Behavior" and "Ladies Drink Free" nights.

This new position can be seductive especially if this new senior ranked player has never experienced it before.  Ah-HA you say; but what if he is a bank president or head of his corporate division or rich? He's already been worshipped there ... why the dojo?

No matter if all of those are the case outside the dojo.  Inside the dojo is different.  On the mat it carries hints and inferences of "Yoda-hood" and "Jedi Knight-ism" and is therefore somewhat "Magical" and "Ninja-like".  It has a whole "other-worldly-ness" to it and therefore has nothing to do with life in the corporate world.

The seduction can, in some instances, cause the player to stop trying to learn new material, stop doing difficult things such as highly advanced or complex kata, can inhibit his desire to do the impossible such as becoming a truly competent randori expert.  After all; he's already gotten to where he is and to begin the hard study-path again is to take on new challenges that he may not be up to and is to also imply that he really doesn't know as much as he thinks he does.  He begins to engage in a bit of "denial".

Engage Internal Dialogue .............. "I'm good enough at randori now.  Heck.  I can already man/woman handle everyone in the dojo except Sensei and maybe one or two others.  I already can do all the basic kata better than everyone else.  I'm already Sensei' uke a lot of the time.  I'm tired and I'm going home and taking every Saturday off.  I really don't want to get to class early to do extra training and I have a cold beer waiting at the house so why stay after class?" ............ Dis-engage Internal Dialogue

It's easy to get lazy and enjoy the adulation of being the BMOM (Big Man On the Mat) aka BDOT (Big Deshi On the Tatami). 

It's easy to not do the hard work of hour after hour after hour of tough and tiring practice once you (he) becomes relatively competent (as compared to others of the same rank) or extremely superior (in ability) as compared to others of lesser rank. 

It's easy to begin to coast and once you start to coast it is admittedly difficult to get ginned back up and start that trek up the mountain again.

It's easy to rationalize it when you look in the mirror and say to yourself, "I'm good enough already for now.  I'll think about doing more hard work next year.  After all, I really don't feel good about it when I'm doing kata and Sensei comes over and starts correcting me.  It makes me look dumb in front of the White Belts and I makes me feel bad because after all ..... my fundoichi doesn't stink and besides, how much more can Sensei tell me that I don't already know or can't discover on my own."

Think Fred knows he's saying this to himself?  Likely not.  That's how deceptive self-deception can be.  It's subliminal and so internalized that without knowing it we can run this thru' our heads everyday and never really be aware of it.  (Go study Transactional Analysis sometime if you really want to understand the concepts behind internal tapes.)

It's all too easy to lose sight of the path, lose sight of the big picture, lose sight of the possibilities, lose sight of what you intended to become when you started.

As you rise up in rank your horizons should be placed further out, not close in.  You should understand how much more there is to learn, not become satisfied with how little you actually know.

Reaching your current "high rank" is supposed to open your eyes and cause you to look up at a horizon that may not be totally clear   ......... not hood your eyes and cause you to lower your gaze because what you can see is both clear and focused.

So get refocused and re-discover what matters on the mat ............. or quit.

Aikido players and Bushi always move forward. 

They don't stand still because it's the easy path.

Even if you are physically past the ability to take 1,000 ukemi you can still move thru' new waza without force or falls, you can still learn light randori, write treatise on Aiki, be productive.

But standing in place  without forward movement or acting hesitant (as if you have a prior appointment) when Sensei says "Time to work" is not acceptable and is ........... not the "Way".

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

December 28, 2011

99. A Loud Shirt with Flowers, A Camera and a Look of Astonishment

If I were Ed MacMahon and Johnny Carson were still alive I'd be standing off to one side repeating that phrase while I chortled (I like that word "chortle", has ring to it) while Johnny wore his turban and opened the envelope to say .......... "What do Hawaiian tourists, dojo tourists and gym tourists all have in common?"

I was at the gym this morning having fully commited to getting back into shape afer the last 2 to 3 years of being inconsistent; remembering that I've had years prior in living at the gym and having a BMI way above what is supposed to be normal for a 5 foot 8 guy (I have little to no body fat and my chest measurement is 15 inches more than my waist ......... try buying a suit sometime).

I've lived in weight rooms, gyms, dojos and athletic field houses since the 4th grade and by spending my whole life working out I've been described as a fire plug who looks 10 years younger than my calendar age.  This works out pretty well but the downside is that as each decade passes I have to stay more focused and more consistent since staying in shape is more difficult now than when I was 20 or 30.  Not a biggie as the results are well worth the effort. 

I'm not the only one at the doj' who benefits from this as I have a Yudansha who is 70, looks and acts like he's still in his late 50's and who, based on his stories, walks into board meetings with guys younger than he who can barely lift their coffee cup, much less walk onto a mat and take a few hard breakfalls while teaching waza to someone who is literally in high school and 50 years his junior.  His co-executives look at him like he walks on water.

The long and the short is that for he and I and others like us, staying is shape takes focus, discipline, commitment and all three of those take a lifetime to understand, develop and to stay with.  Yes .... I've had periods when I was down or too busy at work or a little sick or consumed with personal or job issues but ........... I've always, always, always gotten back to the gym and to the dojo and now at age 60 can still run circles around guys less than half my age (don't tell anyone but I do need some additional aerobics work to get fully back up to speed so I'm revised my workout sheets today for my 4 day split).

What sets me, Mr. G, and all the others like us at my dojo and at your dojo is that we go to class or the gym and we wear pretty simple clothing, stay focused and don't take our cell phones or cameras with us.

This morning, for example, I remembered just why I intensely dislike January and February of each year and have for as long as I can remember.  I have my sheets for my 4 day split routine of anerobic and aerobic exercises, I'm puttering along feeling pretty good and starting to get back to lifting heavy again having just found a new, really good NO2 booster that's chock full'o BCAA's and I look up and find two bimbo's I've never seen before with their cute exercise books and technicolor uniforms and their cell phones and their hats (on backwards of course). 

They have between them every free weight dumb-bell off the racks ranging from 5 to 25 pounds and in between and they're guarding them lest someone ask for one to use since they weren't (I'm honestly not exagerating here people, not one iota) making biceps at each other and taking their cell phones and photo'ing each others tatoo's and muscles they're going, "Ooo, I like that one.  Have you done your arms yet?  I'm done with my arms and moving on to my butt next.  OH that's a cute pink outfit you have.   Where did you buy it?"

I said nothing but mentally I palmed my face and thought to myself, "Oh God, please let the New Year Resolution crowd go home and quit using up oxygen."  These two young women appeared more interested in trolling for trouser trout than in working out.  The only saving grace is that they'll be gone from the gym likely by mid-March or so because it's too difficult and other things are more fun at 7 AM.

This was the gym but also I've seen it (the tourist phenomena) in dojo's my entire MA career.  Folks who come in with good intent but essentially fall off the weight bench (or tatami) and who, unable to develop the focus and personal commitment, eventually quit and go home.  It's too bad actually because so many dojo or gym tourists could greatly benefit and would do well with enough focus and c0mmitment.

I consider myself really, truly fortunate to NOT have any people like this in my dojo and to have a great group of dedicated players, both male and female and ranging from high school students to guys older than me.  They're all commited and they're all focused and none of them are tourists, none are wearing loud Hawaiian shirts and they all left their camera's at home.

Only, ONLY by commitment, focus, dedication, personal discipline and only by doing all of those consistently over our entire lives can we move forward and develop those skills that others do not have.  Only by consistency can we progress and learn.

Leave the Hawaiian flower shirt at home along with the camera.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

February 2011


56. Aikido Seasoning

Hmmm....a little salt, some garlic, maybe some gumbo file.....oops you caught me in the middle of thinking about the Cajun Holy Trinity (of cajun cooking and gumbo..a little onion, a little celery,. a little.....).

Aikido seasoning is a topic that I'll consider trying to expand over a post or two since it's a little easier on me (and you) to NOT have a single post that takes 4 days to read.

For the record it should be obvious that I'm not talking about seasoning food but rather, the seasoning or maturity or depth of true understanding that we derive from just simply being on the mat for years and making a ton of mistakes and doing good and bad, right and wrong, precise and imprecise in all facets of Aikido practice.  This includes what we say and do, how we train, how we treat our ukes and juniors and seniors. 

Seasoning in Aikido is the same as seasoning in life and with enough of the right kind we end up old and gray and people consider us to be old and wise, instead of old and dumb (or silly).

As a kid, I was always in a hurry to grow up.  I wanted to get out of knickers and into long pants.  I wanted to cross the street and go to the store by myself without mommy holding my hand.  I wanted to drink alcohol and drive a car NOW and not years from now.  I was really impatient and as a result I'm now 58 years old and many, many, many times regret (severely and sincerely regret) that I was so impatient that I missed many of the lessons the old geezers around me tried to teach me but that I missed because of my "ants-in-my-pants" impatience.

Today I was sitting at my desk and was just surfing the web since today is one of those days when I have so much to do and I'm so far behind that instead of feeling energy about the job and the opportunity to make more money I just feel the weight of the grind (I need to win the lotto since I bet I'd be really good at being retired.....  ;-) .......).

I'm surfing so much I start to reach for my can of Dr. Zog's Sex Wax for my board and I stumble across a blog with my name as one of the topics.  This of course catches my attention since not all of the comments were complementary (not really bad either for that matter so I'm not complaining, I just found the discussion interesting since it's not often you get to see what others think).  Interspersed throughout the blog were various comments on my method of teaching and of running the dojo.  So being the curious guy that I am, I tracked down all the threads and found out who it was and once I made the discovery, I had a flashback like a 1968 hippie on LSD who's been hanging out at Barton Springs too long and had a big "Like WOW MAN.......far out....like deja vue!"

I suddenly channeled my old Sensei and had a brief moment of fully and completely understanding his viewpoint and for that momentary flash of satori no longer thought that he was some insane samurai plopped down in Texas 200 years out of time and 5,000 miles out of place.

He once said, "It's too bad that so-and-so left the dojo because he'll likely never understand.  He left before it was time to leave.  He's too impatient and the cakes not baked."  So I course had to ask why and after about 3 hours of conversation on a work night and sitting in the dojo until after 12 midnight I was starting to ask myself why I had to ask why; until I remembered that I had to be patient and not have those teenage ants-in-my-pants any more.  I had to sit through the lesson in order to learn the lesson, as-it-were.

So Sensei talked about learning and how difficult it is to fully understand the larger picture with only limited information and how common it is in the martial arts and in Aikido for a student to think that Sensei is withholding data or not teaching correctly or that Sensei just doesn't know the information and then leaves for "greener pastures" with a better Sensei.  In order to get this into the blog so that it makes some direct sense I'll do some "paraphrase-ing" and "example-ing" for this and the following posts.

In this blog I ran across, the writer complained that one of my senior teachers had tried to teach him tenchi-nage but had left out the part about the breath.  The undertones of his comments was that my senior student (and by extension me) didn't know about kokyu.  His blog was about kokyu-nage and the application of breath during the throw and he had a long list of the waza in our ryu of what throws did and did not utilize kokyu even though he understands the waza he listed little since he had essentially just learned them and had not gone through the forging process so many Aikido Sensei talk about.

He now trains at a different dojo and was commenting that "they" showed him what we couldn't.  Well, at first I was thinking what in the world is this guy talking about and then the deja vue struck me wtih its' import.

He left our dojo as a brand new Shodan who, after being promoted, promptly proceeded to go on hiatus like many new promotees are wont to do; i.e, he got lazy and quit training or even showing up at the dojo  So here's the rub and here is what Sensei meant when he gave me the lesson so many years ago.

How can I teach you to correctly apply breath to throw tenchi-nage (or any waza for that matter) if you still are unable to get your feet in the proper position for the waza to begin with (or your arms or your hands or your overall posture, etc., etc.,)????

How can I, or anyone for that matter, teach you the subtleties of a waza if you can't tie your pants correctly?  In other words, how in the world can any Sensei teach you the advanced and more intricate parts of a waza if you have only just learned and blocked out the basic form and are still working on that?

So this was what Sensei was referring to and what he taught me that night.  You simply have to be on the mat a sufficient number of hours AND you have to have actually THROWN that waza a sufficient number of times (1,000's) in order to understand the base level before you are ready to understand the middle level, before you can understand the advanced level, before you can understand the super advanced level, before you............................well, you get the idea.

He actually was a good a Shodan with much potential but having only just seen tenchi-nage, he simply was not ready for the advanced concepts or a discussion of the idea of using the breath for throwing and, even if the senior player who was teaching him tenchi-nage talked about focused breathing (kokyu) whether that kokyu was physical or mental or spiritual (yes grasshopper, kokyu encompasses all three and is not ONLY air and blowing up balloons) would he have understood or even heard the words, his mind being focused only on the position of body, use of kuzushi, direction of happo-no-kuzushi, body drop/body rise, etc.?

So as a brand new Shodan, does he really have the ability (the seasoning) to ask the question, "Say, where's the kokyu?"  like the old tv commercials where the old lady walks into the burger shop and asks, "Where's the beef"?  If he had asked that question as a Sandan or Godan then sure, it's time to talk but as a newly minted Shodan?

I have only recently (recently being the last 2 or 3 years) acquired a number of advanced dan ranks that are capable of understanding the use of kokyu and they have been pleasantly surprised.  I am now taking them through all the advanced kata and showing them where to apply the breath since, unknown to all but the most advanced players, kokyu is actually a facet of ALL aikido waza and not just the ones with the phrase "kokyu-nage" tagged onto their name.

To look at a quote from a book by one of the well-knowns, Gozo Shioda, "....In Aikido we use terms like "kokyu power" or "focused power" to refer to the power that we develop........Kokyu power is produced when we push ourselves to the limit making the most efficient use of the capabilities that lie within our own bodies.  Consequently, anybody, no matter what kind of person, can use kokyu power.  The only problem is whether or not you practice in such a way as to develop it.  Another important point is that kokyu power is not limited to Aikido alone....."

Hmmm, looks to me that kokyu power is a part and parcel of everything that is Aikido, that it is not limited only to specific waza labeled "kokyo dosa" or "kokyu waza" and that once understood (repeat, understood AND internalized) it can applied to just about anything.........."kokyu-dish washing" or "kokyu-sushi cutting"........and don't think I'm joking here folks because "KOKYU POWER' can be considered as the most appropriate way in which to apply power and focus and internal juices to ANYTHING YOU DO!

As Sensei said, he left too soon and in my mind he has ants-in-his-pants because if he had hung around long enough we could have assisting him in understanding this.  Sometimes information can only be understood by hanging around and picking it up by osmosis since the concept can't readily be transmitted like a joke at a comedy club.  Sometimes the Budo concept of "direct transmission" means letting it rub off on you over a very long period of time.  Afterall, this ain't (sic) Star Wars and we're not having an attack of the midi-chlorians and satori doesn't come by the 6 pack; it takes a lot or really hard work over a very long time.  Anything worthwhile always does which is what the word "patience" means.

So the first part of this lesson on ants is don't begin to claim that you are not being taught the recipe for the "super-secret-sauce" until you have been around long enough to understand the lessons being offered you (or know the difference between a cup, a tea glass, a handful and a pinch when seasoning your gumbo).

And to be fair and honest about it, you as a student need to stay with your
Sensei until you learn the parable of "ants-in-your-pants" and it matters little whether you're my student or his student, or an Aikido player or a Judo player, or a french horn player or a MMA guy.  Stay with it long enough to fully, FULLY understand and only then start making value judgments about whether or not you're in the right dojo.

We'll spend the next few posts on this general topic since I think it's important for all Aikido students to understand.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
September 2009

41. It's A New Year and It's Time To Be Selfish!

Today's the first day of 2009 and right about now everyone is sitting with a cup of coffee in one hand and a pen in the other diligently writing out all the resolutions that they aren't going to follow through on during the year.

You know the ones; I resolve to lose weight, get back into shape, be nicer to the doorman, kiss my dog and not beat my spouse and pet my kids more often (huh?  Wait a second, I got that backwards!) ..... oh bother! .... never mind!

So of course what else would you expect Sensei to do other than to encourage everyone to make that resolution to go to class and spend more time on the mat?????

I recently was sent an email by one of my black belts who, as part of his resolution (actually made back before Christmas ..... it WAS Christmas by the way and not some arcane "Holiday Season") has pledged to me that he will learn "X" Kata (several actually) and hone them until they shine all in preparation for doing a mid-level Yudansha promotional demo by the end ot 2009.

We'll see.  I know that he has all the right intentions but I've been in this game of professional level martial arts long enough to understand just what a big wad of double-bubble he's bit off especially when dealing with me.  My performance expectations are reasonable but high so if he, or any other of my Yudansha, want to chew that cud, then I'll work with them but I'll most certainly expect them to commit to the process or the next time they come to me wanting what could turn out to be several hundred hours of personal attention I might give them a Sphinx/Zen-Like smile and quote a little Yoda to them, and nothing more.

For me personally, making resolutions and annual commitments has become a more-than-serious ritual, one that has both enhanced my life and frustrated me immensely.  My problem is getting diverted from watching the ball so lets look at this for one (maybe two) seconds and while you are reading this think about how many areas in your life it can apply to and how the concept (and not the specifics) can prevent you from falling into the trap that I have committed to not make "one more time" this year.

A business associate who shall go unnamed and who won't read this anyway is completely undisciplined and it shows; in his desk condition, in his professional income and in his personal life.  He forever makes commitments that he fails to keep because some problem always comes up that takes his attention away and he is always getting "hammered" by someone because of it (bill collectors, the tax man, his wife, his partner).  So, in an effort to "prop him up" every time he walks into my office expressing too much un-male emotion over "one more issue" my response is a cross between friendly understanding and support, and brutal tough love "a-hole style".

The result of this is that with my focus taken off-line I failed to make the sales production goal that I had set for myself last New Year's.  Waaaahhhh! ..... but you know, it is ENTIRELY MY FAULT! .... and I have absolutely no one to blame but myself.

That fact that he can't focus past the wart on the end of his nose should not divert me from my goals as long as those goals I have set for myself are reasonable AND as long as I have met the commitments to others that are on line.

Ayn Rand wrote a short book (compared to Atlas Shrugged everything she wrote was short) titled The Virtue of Selfishness.  The title alone puts some people off but once read and understood, it makes perfect sense and is a great guide to live your life by.  In a nut shell.................

There is no such thing as altruistic behavior because no one does something for no reason and not expecting something in return.  If you do a favor for someone it's because you view it as the right thing to do but you expect either monetary compensation or job promotion or a "thank you for your help" or at the very, very least one or two "atta boy's". 

Bur sometimes what is called "altruism" really isn't and it can be guilt driven and that altruistic/guilt-driven behavior can divert you from what really matters.

eg: Why give your last dollar bill to charity if you can't feed your family just because your minister told you to?  Why exhaust yourself emotionally, spiritually, and health wise taking care of someone who is fully capable of helping themselves unless you expect some kind of recognition (like I was doing with my business associate)?  Why give of yourself, if you have nothing left to give just because societal "norms".

Why divert yourself from your resolutions if you know they are right for you, good for you, will help you grow and over time will make you a better, more mature person/parent/spouse/sibling/teacher/student/Aikido player just because ..... someone told you too or "suggested" you to or  ...... whatever way they make you take your "eye off the ball".

So the entire thrust of her writing was be selfish (when appropriate), be self centered (when appropriate) and don't allow others to "guilt" you into NOT doing what you know is right for you in the long run.

So whether your resolution is to come to class more often or lose weight or quit smoking, etc., etc., be careful to NOT allow others to divert your pledge to yourself ......... be true to yourself and follow thru for a change.

For me ........... my business associate was told several times over the last 30 days after an abysmal year of sales production that it's time to poo or get off the training potty.  My goals are set and regardless of what he can or is unable to do, I'm moving forward both for my mental view of myself as being a successful businessman but also for the good of my family who will benefit once I make my goals. 

Lead ..... follow .... or get the HELL out of my way!  But this wagon is moving forward, the same advice I'm giving that Yudansha who wants to demo, and the same advice that you should give yourself when you look in the mirror this morning and shine your pearly whites'.

See you on the mat/health club/Weight Watchers Group/religious study group/gourmet cooking class ....................... whatever your resolution this year may be.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
New Year's Day, 2009