137. The Feral Kid - A Spengler-ian Operetta in Three Parts

San Antonio.  The center of the Texan Universe has been taken over by urbanity on the Fourth of July (aka people who prove that Darwin was right but who haven't won the Darwin Award yet .... just give them time).

During the three days we were there on July vacation (having survived the Valley of Moo - post #135, and the Valley of River Sardines - post #136 .... go back and read those first and in order if you haven't already) I was doing my normal ("Hey Honey .. look at him ... look at them ... see that family .... ooooo ... would'ya look at that") routine in which I people watch.  

I people watch A LOT and I classify everyone I see.

All good Budoka should engage in people watching.  Serious people watching.  Not just sometimes but all the time.  It should be an embedded part of your being in which you always have your head up and you watch everyone around you in order to not become a victim of assault by sub-humans and barbarians, or to prevent yourself from just walking off a cliff, a high curb or into oncoming traffic; or in the case of the Riverwalk, literally the river.

People watching is more than simply not using your cell phone or looking across the street before you cross or walking around a group of people who seem marginal.  People watching is looking beyond the crowds of badly dressed Goths's or nihilists who carry a certain "aroma" around them; for within the crowds of "urban-ity" who may be watching the oblivious tourists, drunks and silly teenagers were the true feral population.   The Lone Wolves.  The real sub-humans.

I tend to classify people into several slots at first glance and then leave it up to them to convince me to change their classification.  I don't apply this to friends or co-worker necessarily or even to my agency clients (some of whom I would tend to put at the bottom rung) based on how they treat their employees when I conduct enrollment meetings.

I tend to use this system pretty extensively for strangers tho' and for prospective deshi when they walk into the dojo, or for that matter when I teach at seminars away from home where I might walk into a room with 100 people there, 90% of whom I simply have never met before.  You have to do this otherwise you could find yourself cold-cocked by some Budo-Wannabee who is there to prove a point by taking you out.  First time it happens to you or you see it happen to the guy running the seminar then you learn really quickly what "people watching" and placing them into instinctive classifications really means, and why it's necessary.

So as a rough draft (and I reserve full right of modification as I get older and hopefully a little smarter about all of this and I don't claim total omniscience in the arena of people classifying) is:

Uber-Human:  Able folks, open-minded, ethical, moralistic, ex-military or LEO's who kept up their training, profession martial artists, high rank Aikido, Judo, Daito Ryu, Muy Thai, etc. who are smart, trained, skilled, alert, aware, and act it and wear it.  Ever seen a prospective student walk into your dojo to join your classes and the second he pulls off his shoes, puts them into the shoe rack and walks over to introduce himself you just know that he's trained by the way he walks, how he holds his spine and how his feet grip the floor and how he precisely and succinctly expresses his goals and desires about everything from MA to his career to his family?  That's Uber-Human.

Human:  Basically lots of potential to become Uber-Human but still raw material and unkneaded dough.  They just need a good Sensei, some good co-Aikido players to work and train with and a lot of nurturing.  Anyone who's a senior player, a Sensei or who runs a dojo was here at one time and we just got lucky in who we signed on with.  There were likely a lot of humans on the Riverwalk who were just as observant as we were while strolling thru' the Valley of the Sardines (really crowded) but they were, I think, greatly outnumbered by the People.  Most humans will likely never be serious martial artists because they lack the drive or they start with the drive and then at some point are overtaken by career, family or other issues and never make that leap to "Uber-dom".

People:  I love all the vampire shows on TV these days and the terms they use (not to mention all that hot "vampire sex").  "Meat Sack".  Very descriptive in how the vampires view their walking plate-lunch but in this case it's the guy who walks into the dojo to ask about classes and he's done everything, been everywhere, but knows (and can do) absolutely nothing at all.  A dabbler with a loud opinion and a lot of short training stints at every type martial art in existence. 

Or, another example would be a female I ejected a couple of years ago who claimed she wanted to learn and begged to be on the mat so I thought she's harmless enough and I let her try.  Three months later she's still trying to figure out how to take even the most basic of ukemi and every time we put her on the mat she says she's too tired and every time someone grabs her wrist for a technique "It hurts".  But she loves the idea of Aikido and just wants to be around the people who do it so that she can claim that she too, is an Aikido player.  

Basically "People" have no potential and don't want to have any potential and view life as a series of texts on their cell phone, the Sunday ticket on cable, another plate of greasy french fries and three McRibs with a side of diet Coke in the gallon container.  They can be friends and family (so you gotta' love some of them in spite of the total BS involved) but they can just drive a high level player crazy with their inane comments and off-kilter unrealistic view of the world and weird views of what self-defense is .... and ain't.

I once got into an argument with a family member who fits into this category with the argument centered on the danger of certain dogs and how genetic selection for aggressive predisposition could be selected and seen in some breeds.  I even cited Gregor Mendel and the response was "Who?" causing me to understand that he slept through AP Biology in high school.

No use.  He still thinks that having a chain saw on a lease around children is a good idea as long as you "love the dog" because the dog is just "misunderstood".  So with this attitude how can you think that he would understand the use of force and when and how to apply it, or the idea that some people are ...... just ...... evil...... and like the evilness because it completes them.  He'd likely want you to "discuss" the issues and reach a "mature" agreement about your impending butt-rape with your assailant; as opposed to reaching for the nearest club to crease their hair with.

Barbarians:  These would be the nihilistic Goths  and Urban Animals and high school punks that we saw everywhere on the Riverwalk.  Dangerous in a groups but for the most part little more than obnoxious bags of hot air if encountered singly and faced down.  A few could be dangerous individually due to background and/or training at your local Karate Bob's Nail Salon and Self-Defense Emporium.  Poorly educated, or well educated and lacking purpose, direction, manners and self-respect.  Dressing to irritate daddy or to prove that they are not part of society, but by doing so become part of a new societal tribe with few civilized rules of behavior (think a pack of drunken high school jocks or college frat-rats).  The kind of people who cut in line to buy movie tickets and dare you to object.  The kind of people who drive bouncers at night clubs and sports bars crazy with their out-of-control drinking and wild aggressive actions.  The kind of people who may have bullied you in high school and that you still run from at your 30 year reunion (unless you have since become Uber-Human).  Loud attitudes based in no knowledge of anything of importance (but they're completely willing to tell you what you are doing wrong and if you object then they'll do the Knock Out Game on you and steal your sack lunch, bag of Oreo's and your beer and have no guilt).

Subhumans:  The Feral Kid.  I saw him probably a good half-dozen times every day that we were in San Antonio.  There are two primary types of subhumans.  Those who are really smart and who do well at blending into the crowds of barbarians so that they are less noticeable; but who are really very dangerous lone wolves; and those who are so far off the scale that they don't fit in anywhere and run alone on the fringes of everything.   As a famous movie character once said (paraphrasing), "There are just some men in the world that you can't talk to or reason with.  They are just different from everyone else and they want to watch the world burn".

I discount the bums and the usual street people from this category.  You could argue that they also are sub-human but in my view most of them are just down on their luck or have unfortunate mental issues.  The one's I'm concerned about are the one's that very, very few people in the crowd saw and who basically embody evil and all it's traits and who have the ability to harm others without concern, without guilt, without hesitation.  Very dangerous even for well trained players since a decent person might have a moment of hesitation before pulling trigger while the Subhuman has none of that consideration or hesitation.

Barbarians get old, married and hopefully mellow-out.  Subhumans on the other hand just get more experience at being evil and correspondingly become more dangerous.

The danger to people today is that of walking blind and not seeing the feral kid.  Every time I saw him he was alone, walking fast, sliding in and out of the people on the side walk so easily no one seemed to know he was there and quickly gone.  Uber-Humans with training would be aware of him immediately because he just didn't fit and his body actions and posture were just different from everyone around him.

The look in his eyes, intensity, focus, obviously not on drugs, athletic with that lean, wirey type of body, moving like a cat (or black panther due to his clothes).  Dressed all in black but his clothes were clean so he wasn't a street person and had somewhere to sleep and bathe.  Hair combed and well kept.  Clean shoes.   A lone wolf because while there were Goths like him everywhere, he was different .... on the hunt .... and since he moved alone I would suspect that the other Goth's saw that he was different enough from them to cause them to fear him and to stay away or, he looked at the others dressed like him as not being worthy and in his mind, being lesser beings than he and refused to accept them.

When I started this blog several years ago I began by stating up front that I wanted to be different in how I wrote and that I wanted to deliberately provoke thought.  Any fool can write about ki or internal power or the ethics of Budo or ria or sen or maai and indeed, the blog-o-sphere is full of those type writings, some from competent teachers and some from foolish wannabee's; such is the internet in its' ability to allow global audiences to the boring and the incompetent.

My goal and purpose with this blog is to discuss the mentality of martial arts.  I may on occasion roll over into a diatribe on technique or running a dojo but once you learn your system in full, what is martial arts, really? .............. other than the mental work?

 So next time you go out, start to build the habit of classifying everyone around you.  Don't feel guilty about and don't follow the idea that all people are good at heart and deserving of consideration.  Accept that some are just ..... evil and conduct yourself accordingly.

Did the Feral Kid make his score at the Riverwalk on that 4th of July Weekend via assault, robbery, rape, theft?  I mean, I saw him everyday we were there so he had obviously, for whatever reason,  picked the Riverwalk as his hunting ground and apparently had success because he kept returning day after day.

I don't know if he scored or how many times he scored or who his victims could possibly have been.

I just know that because I saw him, and because more than once I looked into his eyes as he walked by and held his gaze to deliberately let him know that I saw him, his score wasn't us.

L.F. Wilkinson - Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, Texas

August 2014

 

 


136. Clothes Make the Feral Man - A Spengler-ian Operetta in Three Parts

San Antonio, Texas.   The center of the universe for all Texicans; and if you ain't a Texican then you wish you were.  Teddy slept here.

Drive to SA, cerveza and late lunch at Mi Tierra, then check in at THE Menger and on to the River Walk.  SA actually made a smart move decades ago and took the river that runs through the center of downtown and built sidewalks at the level of the river, which runs one story below street level, and put in shops, hotels, restaurants, eateries and bars.  It has, over the years, become a real upscale attraction that tourists come from all over come to see after going to The Menger and raising a toast to Teddy. 

If you take the boat tour then it's easy to imagine that you've left the city and are somewhere out in the county because all you can see by looking straight ahead or to the side is trees and little shops and people sitting by the water drinking cerveza and feeding the ducks and pidgeons.  It becomes a real get-away and a fantasy that can only be broken by going back up to street level where you face the traffic and the people. 

At night it becomes a true fantasy journey because everything is lit up and if you look up at the office towers and tall hotels that peek through the overhanging trees all you really see are stars and far-away lights.  It's just magic sometimes (and it really becomes magic if you have too many margaritas and fall over in the boat face-up and stare at the sky slowly going by).  It's not Holland or Venice but then we're drinking cerveza and wearing huaraches and not siping wine and wearing wooden clogs or silk slippers with little bells on the toes.

In fact I may have to make a Christmas one year since I've seen photos of the entire river decorated.  Mmmmm .... floating down the river in the boat, smoking a cigar, sipping some really fine Margarita's (try the new prickly pear M's ... really good).  "Pass the guac' please and don't forget the chips".

When I was raised up from being knee-high to a jack rabbit I was taught that it's ok to dress down but dressing down was still supposed to show some level of sophistication and self-respect and retain a certain level of individuality.  Moms universally used to tell you that how you dress is how you act and that when strangers meet you for the first time it takes them about 30 seconds to immediately form that all-important first impression of you as a person. 

If that impression is bad then it becomes difficult to change without some real gyrations and intelligent conversation; that being how important appearance and dress really is.  If you don't believe this then go buy the book, Dress for Success.  Way back yonder (about 1980 or so) I worked as a bank examiner and met Malloy (the author of Dress for Success) who was at the bank we examined that week; selling books and discussing the importance of dress.  Even casual or "dress-down" styles can be done in such a way as to still make that all-important first impression; but if you have a "fail" then it impacts more that just that first impression by strangers.

Dress affects behavior.  The worse the dress the worse the behavior, and vice versa.  I personally know many people (most young, dumb, and full of .....  but what do they know) who will, if asked, tell you that it's "just" a t-shirt or "just" a pair of shorts or "just" a hat or "everyone is wearing this."

Bwahahaha ....... "Son.  They cheated you out of your money.  You need to take that hat back to the store where you bought it 'cause they put the bill on ass-backwards.  The bill goes in the front and not the back."

Research suggests that clothing can have a pronounced effect on our behavior if that clothing has a symbolic (e.g. "tribal") meaning and if we actually have the physical experience of wearing the clothes; the clothes in effect coming alive and enveloping us in an aura that changes how we think and act.  Researchers at the Kellogg School of Management (NW University) call this “enclothed cognition” and in order for enclothed cognition to occur both factors (symblic meaning and wearing them) must occur.

So we get to SA and hit the Riverwalk on the 4th of July so we have to expect an influx of "locals" since one of the biggest fireworks displays in the country will be at dusk and only about 4 blocks away.  Little did I know just how powerful this enclothed cognition was.

Yes.  I am a child of the 60's & 70's.  Hey Dude.  Cool.  Far out.  Like wow ... cowabunga.  Hey man.  Got a light for my joint.  I'll share, just don't Bogart it man.  You know.  Laid back.  Mellow.  Love.  Peace.  Flowers. Free Love.  Beatles and Iron Butterfly and Grace Slick.  Everyone dressed about the same with tie-dye and bell bottoms but for the most part the entire ambiance and environment was pretty calm and mellow with the police being a lot more dangerous than the pot heads.  You could walk thru' a concert at the old SA Memorial Colisium with the smoke so thick you could cut the air with a katana and never fear for your life (although you might have to compete for dance space with the Hari Krishna's and duck all the dozens of frisbees and painted weather balloons being thrown thru' the air).

Not so this last 4th of July at the Riverwalk.

Tribalism.  In all it's fearsomeness.  Even my 15 year old who is still a white belt working on her first promotion could sense it.  The black shirts with pictures of zombies.  The urban hats with the flat bills (front and back).  Hand held speakers Bluetoothed to the cell phone playing Lawrence Welk (well, actually the lyrics uniformly had something to do with "tappin' that", "slapping yo' B__", "killing The Man" and selling enough drugs to buy a new car and get a new tat).

Jewelry with dead faces and skulls.  The black pants with black shoes.  Tatoo after tatoo; not like a sailor wearing a tat that says "I Love Mom" but tats' of dead people, of knives stuck thru' heads, nightmarish tats of death, vampires and zombies.  Nihilism run amuck.  Cell phones taking pic's of everything like these people had never seen normal clothing before or had never been to a real restaurant.  Urban "culture" in all it's vainglory (and that's putting much, much too kind of a face on it).

And the stench from the black bedecked tribal members.  It wasn't mildewy like someone wearing the same clothes for too many days and it was beyond a hot Texas day in the sun.  It was primal.  The smell of pure body odor that was so thick it took me moment to put a label on it.  The stench of women in heat and of men ready to fight.  The stench of arrogance, fear, sex and aggression.  It was occuring naturally based upon the mood of the crowd; but the summer heat of a Texas July served to amplify it.

And it wasn't just one or two people.  It wasn't a couple of small groups.  It was dozens and humdreds of people.  None with families.  Most appearing to be at some level of feral development with many of the smallish groups of 2 to 3 having one individual who was the obvious alpha, with all the aggression that position within the "in-group" entails.  Here in Houston gang experts write that a group of 5 to 6 or more is simply too obvious.  The really serious guys run in packs of no more than 3.  It takes 3 to handle a victim (who has any level of fighting ability) but more than 3 may attact the attention of the police.

It (the stench) finally got so bad that I had to walk closer and closer to the wife and kid because of the subtle aggressive movements and body language I began to see as the night wore on and dark began to fall.  Finally we had enough and the wife and I (she's a 7th Dan in her own right and could sense everything I was sensing) both agreed to get out of the Riverwalk and back to street level and to the hotel.

This I am certain that this was why European royalty invented scented kerchiffs and eventually perfume in the attempt to mask the primal stench in an effort to create a more polite social setting and why in some courts you were not allowed to enter or beg favor without donning the proper clothing first.  (Do you remember in school how all the rowdy little boys suddenly got all-quiet-like and said lots of "Yes Mam's" and "Yes Sir's" when everyone was forced to put on a coat and neck tie for the first time?  See.  Enclothed cognition at work even on a pack of wild sweaty 10 year old boys.)

Here is the scary part.

It seemed that only the three of us were aware of how the atmosphere was changing as the influx of the local "urban" culture coming in got larger and denser.  The rest of the tourists with their wives and husbands and little kids just seemed to keep walking and drinking beer and not noticing how the crowd was changing and becoming more dangerous.  I was waiting for a semi-intoxicated tourist in a loud Hawaiian shirt to accidently knock a beer out someone's hand and have an attempted apology turn into a fist fight which would have likely ended up in the river since there is no railing for most of the Riverwalk and the water is literally one stumble away.

We saw no police.  No undercover officers were apparent.  No bouncers or private security.  And the moment was prime because in some fashion the merchants had received permission to sell beer for carrying around outside; as long as you stayed below and on the Riverwalk itself.  You weren't allowed to carry it up into the street level.  I guess the city fathers had calculated that if anything happened then they could just roll the body into the river and that would be that, and they'd find you days later floating face-down with ducks riding on top of your back.  "Quack, quack."  (That's duck-speak for "where's my tortilla chip".)

 Tribalism is always something watch for.  I don't care if you are the monitor at recess at the local elementary school, if you're shopping for a fur coat at Macy's or you're at a fireworks display in a city not where you normally live.  What we found ourselves in the middle of was like frozen orange juice concentrate.  You remember the commercials on tv.  "Now announcing Uncle Orville's Orange juice.  85 dozen fresh squeezed oranges in every little can."  It was thick and concentrated and really obvious ................. assuming of course that you actually had your head up and was watching the people and the flow of ki (both negative and positive).

Remember.  This blog is about martial arts and how it should impact daily life both on and off the mat so I just gotta' throw some talk about ki into somewhere.

How frustrating it is when you are the only one who seems able to see how evil and sneaky someone is while everyone else is blind to it.

How many authors who write or blog about self-defense throw in scads of commentary in every article that talks about watching where you are, leaving the cell phone in your pocket, being aware of where othere people are, knowing where the exits are. 

Some of the better authors even write about what this blog is concerning; that of looking at how they are dresssed.  Do they look like they are going to church, to a peace rally or something more nefarious?  Are they self-actualilzed idividuals or members of a tribe?  Pay attention to these little things because what Malloy wrote is the same thing that your mother SHOULD have told you.

  • Clothes make the man.
  • If you play with shi-yeet it will rub off on you.
  • Would you jump off the cliff if your "best friend" told you to?
  • And, you can still be an individual and show your independence from your family without wearing depressing Goth or "urban" clothing because if you do, how long will it take for the "enclothed cognition" to kick in and then be exacerbated by the Nihilistic attitude of your "friends"?

Evil really does exist and in a very practical sense (leaving religious ideas completely out of it) you can admit it into your being; and clothing (combined with peer influences) may be one avenue so you should always look around you to see who has succumbed to the temptation and who could be a danger to you.

Our jobs as Sensei includes teaching students to watch for it, be aware of it and to avoid it.  But if it finds you then be ready since Budo and martial arts is not just about wearing pretty clothes.

Part 3 - "He's So Feral" or "The Feral Kid"

 L.F. Wilkinson - Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, Texas

July 2014


135. Moo - A Spengler-ian Operetta In Three Parts

Part 1 - Moo! ....  or ...  Which Way Am I Going, What Day of the Week Is It and Who's My  Daddy?

The family and I took a vacation over the 4th of July Weekend and drove to San Antonio, also called "SA" (not to be confused with "esse") which, when I was a kid in high schoool and college in far S. Texas, was a common destination for us young pups, er, ah, studs looking for excitement.

Back then, in the Greater Cretaceous Era, it was the only place to go to see concerts by real rock & roll bands (like Bloodrock, Jefferson Airplane or Jethro Tull) and was my first exposure to the Hari Krishna group that to this day still exists in SA and that we actually saw in front of the Alamo .... wow ..... was I surprised after 40 years ....  (boom, boom, boom, "Hari Krishna, Hari Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hari, Hari" ..... dance like a maniac in heat ... jump up an down .... ponytail swinging ....).  My 15 year old got shy when I volunteered to take her over to introduce her.  I wanted to pay the boys a sawbuck for quick dance.  She may never fully understand Dad's sense of humor.  Oh well.  Maybe next time.

In fact, when I was was in college and was in a fraternity (an official "Frat Rat" as-it-were, still got the pledge and actives' pins to prove it) SA was known as a "One Case Drive"; that is, in a car with 2 to 3 Frat Rats, we went thru' a case of beer each to make the trip, ergo, a "One Case Drive".  Back then (well before the open container law stopped everyone from drinking and driving) we had the ice chest between the two rats in the back seat and the junior had to dig out the beer cans and open them for us.  We measured not by miles but by case with Corpus Christi being a  mere 6-pack (each) and SA being a full case each (oh man we ..... watered ..... a lot of trees ... on the trip).

To go Full-Tilt-Zen for the moment; SA just .....  "IS" ... assuming you're a Texican and if you're not then you wish you were.  It "IS" the Capital City of the Galaxy.  It has The Alamo, the one true place of true sacrifice and heroism, and The Menger Hotel which is right next door to The Alamo and which is where Teddy Roosevelt recruited The Rough Riders who went to Cuba and kicked some serious Spanish Booo-taay.  Plus it's where Mi Tierra is which was founded the year I was born (they knew I was coming).  When such notables as Mushashi and Zeus are in town they always stop in for plate of nachos and a can of Tecate with a slice of lime on top of it.

So if you're a Texican then SA (or San Antonio) "IS" the center of The Universe and the hub of what it means to be Texan.  AND, all true Texicans have to raise a toast to Teddy while sitting at The Bar at The Menger before they die while drinking a Spanish beer (glass of wine .... phfffbt).  The place has old Teddy clothes and pictures on display everywhere and is pretty amazing.  Even Bill Clinton had to make the Mandatory Pilgrimage to The Menger when he was POTUS and he signed his picture on the wall and wrote that eating Mango ice cream at The Menger is to die for.

So we're driving from Houston/Katy to SA and just getting out of the city limits is an effort, what with all the people trying to escape Houston and get to The Capital of the Universe (SA).  I can't blame them because while Houston has more jobs, SA has more class and pizzazz and elegance and soul so who wouldn't want to escape?  Even Dallas pales in comparison.

So we finally hit the edge of the city and the speed kicks up to about 85-90 (I can't drive at anything less than about Warp Factor 4) and we're cruising, we're making time to get there and we're playing tunes and we're talking about lunch at Mi Tierra (their chicken mole is ..... ummmmm ..... drool ..... gawd the mole is just ORGASMIC .... whimper ..... ) and suddenly the traffic just .... stops!!

So I'm going with some major WTF"S and the wife is going "Huh" and the kid is going "Hey Dad are we there yet?"  Are we there yet?  So do I strangle you now or strangle you later?

And we crawl, and we crawl, and we crawl and the kid looks up and says, "Hey Dad!  Look at that!" and someone WALKS BY ON FOOT AND THEY'RE GOING FAST THAN I AM!  And I'm going WTF and we look over and people are actually driving their Mercedes and Beemers up the side of embankments and thru' ditches and down the shoulders and then coming back again because the creek is blocking them and people are honking and screaming and I'm telling the kid to keep the doors locked and windows up because I'm thinking any second now ......

And we finally get to a rest stop and there is like 30 or 35 semi-trailer rigs parked there waiting and we see one trucker sitting under his trailer in a lawn chair reading a book and drinking.  And teenage girls in short-short cheek-peekers are running from car to car knocking on windows and talking to people and cars are in park and people are opening ice chests and firing up BBQ pits and drinking beer and having sex and  ....... well .... to be honest they weren't really having sex but I can guarantee you that somewhere out there in the brush .............

So after about two full hours of this snail-like safari thru' the wilds of central Texas we finally pull up next to a guy in a grey pickup and the wife and he exchange "WTF's" a couple of times and he says that based upon his crystal ball (maybe he had a single sideband in his truck) that a truck had an accident and had caused a HazMat issue and the highway was going to be closed the rest of the day ..... oh ..... joy ..... were're still 150 miles outside SA and in the middle of  NOWHERE! and Mi Tierra has my cerveza on ice with waitresses waiting to take my order.

So literally, no exageration, after a full TWO AND A HALF HOURS OF JOY we start to pick up speed and the walkers and joggers are being picked up by their rides and we start to roll and we get to the HazMat accident and ......................... grrrrrr ..... it's on the other side of the road.

It was NEVER on our side.  We're on a divided highway with the divided lanes a good 100 yards apart with a steel cable fence between with a posted 75 mile speed (which in Texas actually translates to 85 mph minimum speed with a max of no more than 100) and the damn rubber neckers have LITERALLY backed up traffic from the location of the wreck to a town called Flatonia which is a good 30 miles behind us.

Hmmm ..... pull out the slide rule .... 30 miles x 5,280 feet per mile = 174,600 feet / 18 average feet in length per car = 9,700 car x 2 lanes = 19,400 cars backed up behind us.  Oh - My - Freaking - Gawd.

O - M - G  ....  a frakkin' 30 mile traffic backup because the damn rubber neckers have to stop to look at what?  A tanker truck that didn't even turn over but only sprung a leak?  A bunch of firefighters spreading sand and chemical disperant foam on the highway?

Woo Hoo .... a chemical spill. 

Now a gun fight between cartels on the side of the road using rpg's and SAW's, a herd of brahma cattle being riden by Lady Madonna in drag as the cattle have sex, a conjunto band in tight pants led by a Guatemalan Tom Jones look-alike playing ranchero music and giving out free cerveza ... now THAT'S worth stopping for  ........... but a bunch of guys in baggy pants spreading sand? 

And ergo part 1 of this blog.  People today have uninteresting lives with little to no meaning such that a simple chemical spill is enough to catch their interest and have them stop their vehicles in the middle of the road so that they can gawk and look and pull out their cell phones and Pin Interest and Instagram and gawd knows what else.

...................... "Moo.  Moo-Moo.  Moo I said.  Hey Mabel, why are we stopping?"

"Because."

"Because why?"

"Because the Official Wearer of the Cow Bell has stopped to look at a coyote."

"Ok.  But I'm hungry and thirsty and need to get the calves home so they can eat."

"That doesn't matter.  The Cow Bell stopped to look at coyotes."

"What are the coyotes doing?"

"Taking a nap."

"But coyotes are too small to bother us and they are taking a nap and are not important and getting the calves home is."

"Doesn't matter.  Hand me my cell phone so I upload a picture of a sleeping coyote to Cow-A-Gram."

"How do I do that?  I don't have any hands."

"So use a couple of teats."     ...................

See.  Like cattle.  Herd moves.  Herd stops.  Herd moves.  Herd stops.  No reason.  Just "is".

Once upon a time people had real interests, real hobbies, real interests and understood the difference between things that matter and things to be ignored, and that higher-class of people would have just driven past after a brief look to be sure that help wasn't needed and that people weren't in trouble. 

"Ok folks.  Now moving on to something more important!  Keep the hands inside the ride at all times please.  Little Johnny, roll up the window and stop slapping your sister.  And pass me a cerveza with some lime.  We have more important things to do and people to see."

Once ascertaining that the crisis/incident was contained they move on because it is not important to their life, safety or existence and not worth the effort or time.  Instead we had a herd of cattle 30 miles long.

I have become convinced that most, the majority of people today are completely unable to understand the difference between the important and the unimportant.  Their lives have become shallow and have no meaning and the least little difference (like the movie where the dog says, "Squirrel") attracts their attention and causes them to focus on that event, no matter how insignificant even if it means not being aware of something much more important; like the car overheating or the gunfire from 4 cars back or that 747 taking out the cornfield.

Their lives are mundane and blah.  They have not developed outside interests and they are living colorless lives in b&w.  Their lives consist of wake, job, get drunk, have sex, sleep, repeat.

They have no imagination and no view of the scope of their own potential and they have a  limited vide of just how far out the horizon is in terms of what they could accomplish.

And this in my view has become a problem that as Budoka, people like us don't have.  Budoka, because we deal with a more serious view on life can tell the difference between what needs to be Instagramed and posted to FB and what does not.  We deal with joint locks and sticks brushing our eyelashes so we compute pretty quickly what matters and what does not as we progress and make the connections between life in the dojo and life outside the dojo.  It just changes all your reference points and they become universal and distinguishing the critical from the mundane becomes just a little easier.

You can discuss all kinds of reasons for its' importance but since this is supposed to be a blog about martial arts I guess I should stay on that topic ..... at least a little.

I, like every other Sensei in the galaxy get regular calls on a weekly/daily basis from people who want to learn martial arts but really have absolutely no idea why.  Some of course immediately blurt out, "Self-defense" or "Self-improvement" so I immediately say, "Welcome home" and we get them on the mat because they have actually made the effort to do some research and have decided that martial arts should become an important part of their lives for set reasons of physical fitness, self-defense, intellectual study, historical significance, whatever.  They have actually looked at it and decided it is important to devote time for the long term can tell that Budo is important and beer down at the sports bar or passing a dead dog on the side of the road is not.

Quite a bit different from the dog in the movie ..... "SQUIRREL!" or the people driving, who should be focused on the joy of the trip and thinking about time with the family and watching the road as they make 85 mph instead of having their attention diverted by .... "OILSPILL SQUIRREL" and almost plowing up someone's rump.  Those that don't know why they want to do MA, I think, just looked at a picture or web site and went "SQUIRREL!" and their focus and attention lasted until the next Pin Interest or Tweet came across their cell and they went to get a new tatoo.

Think about it.  You're walking down the street and the magician (aka the gang member says) "Now watch my right hand" as his left hand guts you because you were unable to distinguish the important from the trivial and were unable to focus longer than ...... "SQUIRREL!"

"Martha!  Get out your cell phone and take a pic and upload it quick!"

Part 2 next ... "A Lack of Class"

L.F. Wilkinson-Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, Texas

July 2014


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.

 


133. Seitei and the Single Girl

Back in the 60's an author wrote a book by a similar title involving "Sex and the Single ...".   The book, controversial for its time, was (of course) popular with "single girls" buying copies numbering into the millions.  Why?  Because the book popularized the idea that by taking the easy path, by having sex with whoever, that life would be wonderful and all problems solved and it doesn't require a lot of complicated thought processes because it was simple and didn't require a lot of work developing intense relationships.

Right?  Well maybe but sometimes the easy path, or the path of least resistance, or the path with the fewest moving parts and requiring the least amount of work raises more questions than one realizes at first.  Simple, repetitive, uncomplicated, easy, anonymous sex in massive quanties may indeed provide "a" answer but for the discerning and thoughtful person it raises a ton of questions not the least of which is "Where do I go from here?" or "What next?"

Seitei kata, of any stripe, does (or should) raise the same type questions in the mind of the serious Budoka.  Seitei supposedly solves all your problems, has few moving parts and requires (after you "master" it) little complicated thought.  Best of all, in the minds of many martial artists it provides most if not all the answers with the least amount of overall effort and has the fewest moving parts (as compared to much larger and more complicated koryu systems).

So for some, it enables them to bill themselves as an "expert" without having to spend the hours and days and years doing the hard, back breaking sweat-work of grinding through the entire advanced system.   (LOL ... Master Sensei of Clif Notes .... )

Three examples spring to mind.  The first is Nage no Kata & Katame no kata from Kodokan Judo.  The second is the Randori no Kata (The 17) from Tomiki Ryu Aikido and the third is Seitei Jodo from Shinto Muso Ryu Jodo.  

All three are minimalist.  All three purport to be condensed versions of the greater whole.  And amongst too many players (waaaaaaay too many players) all three are held up as being the "only" thing you need to study since each (as contained within its' respective art form) presumes to present the full "flavor" and "essence" of the larger ryu with no further sweat being indicated.

Some Aikido players are fond of saying that "all of Aikido is found in Ikkyo .... or Shomanate ... or the walking and first release".  Sorry Charlie-san but it's simply impossible to extrapolate a martial ryu in any functional way from that.  Saying that all of Aikido is contained in Ikkyo or Shomanate and then teaching classes in that fashion won't result in much at all other than some really excessive kuchi-waza and a lot of posturing and prancing around (drag out that technicolor gi and comb your eye brows before stepping in front of the cameras).

This parochial, narrow-scope view is somewhat dampened in Judo due to its' emphasis on randori; randori cleaning up many errors in the absorption of Nage & Katame no Kata (esp.since most Judo players start in randori anyway and evolve into kata, for promotions if nothing else).  Plus, shiai being what it is, many Judo players eventually go on to learn other much more advanced Judo kata so that they can compete for competion points (e.g. Goshin Jutsu, Ju no Kata. Kime no Kata) so eventually, most Judo players do go onto learning at least some of the greater whole of the art form to gain an increased understanding of the bigger picture that's at stake.

Tomiki Aikido, being much like Judo in its' emphasis on randori of various forms also enlarges the Aikido players' view over time.  Most players (but not all mind you) go on to at least look at the koryu kata as part of promotional requirements and for personal curiousity and knowledge.  In fact, the current trend/fad in the Aiki-verse is internal power (just another pretty face to put on the hard work of properly learning principle) so the quest for the golden flower of aiki results in a larger scope of study of various depths and intensities.

With that said however the tendency in many incompetant Sensei is indeed to promulgate the idea that all of Aikido may be found in Ikkyo and Shomanate and then, horror-of-horrors for the survival of the art and the development of their deshi, back up that statement by making that the only teaching path they follow; looking at advanced kata (such as Roku or Koshiki) only once every 10 or so years (whether they need to or not) instead of making a regular visit.

Jodo on the other hand (or other stick) has this problem (of narrow scoping) in spades; and then some.

When I first started training in Jodo some 30+ years ago, Seitei Jodo was all we had.  It was new and we had very limited access to any advanced instruction from Japan; other than through an Aikido Sensei who had also studied under Shimuzu.  She introduced our Sensei to jodo when he made a trip to Japan and we took it from there and got really focused on jo (but only the Seitei Kata).

Although Sensei was committed, he realized early on that even though she wanted his group to move in koryu jo he'd be unable to.  She came one summer, gave him a copy of "The Big Book of Jo" with all the old b&w pic's and having brought her uke and after having demonstrated Chudan from Shinto Muso Ryu AND telling everyone that we should learn the koryu system he said "Hai Sensei" but it went nowhere after that and we continued only in Seitei jo.

Why?  Well, to begin with there were no authorized koryu teachers in the US at that time, plus there were ego issues involved in having to effectively give up control of his group to an outside teacher until he could learn everything (and earn his menkyo).  In looking back on it now, over 30 years later, I can see where the prospect of having to bring everyone in his dojo up to speed, and then about another 100 to 200 players from outside dojo up to speed (in the Seitei) and only then moving hundreds of people forward into the full koryu system with its' 65+ kata and kenjutsu/tanjo/tessen/hojo and kusarigama work.  A daunting if not a completely impossible task given the complexity of the full jojutsu system.

So he, like some many others, began to preach what I now refer to as "The Gospel of the Seitei."

Seitei contains the essence of all jo.  Seitei is all you ever need to learn.  Seitei will bestow the power of the "Magic Whack" upon your stick.  This IS the Seitei that you are looking for.  Seitei is "It" and to study beyond Seitei is, in a word, "Simply Not Necessary".  Sorry.  That's three words but then again it gets across the point he and others preached then, and continue to preach now.

Put your lips together, push out your tongue and make the sound of a woopie cushion being deflated while you snort through you nose like dust got all up in there ....... that's my response to that idea (of Seitei being "it").

Now please don't misunderstand me here.  If Seitei is all you have; then do it.  If there is no other way; then do it.  If you don't have and can't find access to qualified teachers of koryu jo (but you do have access to a good Seitei teacher) then doing only Seitei is completely acceptable and it's exactly what I did for 30 some years.  It's fun and it does teach some good sword and stick work (as long as you stay within proper form) and it can be an incredibly valuable addition to whatever your primary martial art form may be.

However, I think that the second you have reasonable and dependable access to a good jojutsu teacher who can take you beyond the Seitei then you should glom onto them like a sucker fish onto a shark's belly and get really serious about learning.

For the last two or so years (omg, has it been that long already?) we've worked with a jodo teacher who has spend more time in Japan on the boards training in both iaido and jodo than most people have spent reading bad Samurai novels on the life of Mushashi.  I've know him for decades and he graciously agreed to teach us the full jo ryu.  Currently we're all working on Omote, Chudan, Ranai and the kenjutsu & tanjo and while we've still got a long row to plant in the rice paddy, we're working on it.  Everytime he shows up in Houston if we can get him to the dojo we put a stick in his hand and pay attention.

Why?

Simple.  While with my old Sensei I listened to him talk about how the Seitei was/is the be-all & end-all of Jodo, all the while remembering what his jo teacher wanted him to do; learn the larger system and teach/preserve Shinto Muso Ryu Jodo, the entire system.  So I thought about it for years and knew, from my study of Aikido, that Seitei by itself couldn't possibly provide the answer for all possibilities.

Once we went beyond the Seitei set and really got into the Omote and the kenjutsu, all of us began to have more questions.  Instead of answering questions, it just raised more, and the way it did that was by exposing openings or branch points in kata.  Do a kata and get to the middle and jump into a movement in a different Omote kata or Chudan kata (or suddenly realize that you took too large or too small a step and are now essentially hung out to dry with no way back) and you suddently see that while the Seitei showed "a" answer, it left an opening in the movement, a branching point as it were, that Seitei provided no good answer for because of its limited scope.  Seitei became the Clif Notes that someone in the Student Bookstore on the commons took, and tore out half the pages; leaving you not only with a brief summary of Canterbury Tales but not even a complete summary at that with half the summary being gone.  

You were now fully exposed to the opponent (via a gap in your kamae and sen) but had no answer, no way back, no way to understand how to not do it a second time, no firing solution to utilize so-to-speak.  The Seitei, in and of itself, provided no good idea to solve the issue.  Another set of answers has to be provided to explore those branching points/exposures; answers as provided by Omote, then Chudan, then Ranai, then Kage, etc., etc.

I've heard stories over the years about dojo where senior jodo ranks went to teach and while there ran into people who have done Seitei jo the same way for 20 or 30 years; albeit incorrectly.  When offering correction (or if you're PC, "enhanced ideas and alternatives"), the senior jo teacher was told specifically, "No thanks.  I've always done it this way and I don't care to change."  

Wow.   Just O-M-G ... WTF ... Wow.  What a closed mind attitude, not to mention WTF are your students doing talking to a senior teacher like that; esp. when the senior jo teacher was there at your request to begin with.  What kind of absentee landlord are you ... really .... to not keep control of your dojo's environment?  Never mind not being able to progress in your learning.

So all of my people are taught manners (i.e. how to learn and take instruction).  After all; someday they'll be a senior teacher and how would they like that kind of crude response.  I once heard a Japanese Sensei describe some American students as being little more than "White Barbarians".  After hearing stories of another Sensei's jodo students basically refusing instruction from a menkyo holder while attending a jodo session, then that description is apropo.

And, all of my people are taught to not stop their learning at whatever "seitei" is being proferred.  Go on to all the advanced work as quick as you can (and are ready).  Seitei or Nage no Kata or Randori no Kata (the 17) are only Clif Notes; and not very good versions at that.

And perhaps most important of all .... this "moving past the seitei" idea applies not just to jodo, but to Judo and Aikido.  Seitei is seitei and just because Aikido calls it "the 8 releases and the 17" or Judo the "Nage no Kata" doesn't mean that it isn't still a condensation of the larger art form; granted, a very important part but still not the whole.

In fact, take every description where the word jodo appears and replace it with Aikido.  That's how fundamental this idea really is.

For example .......................... 

"So he, like some many others, began to preach what I now refer to as "The Gospel of the Seitei."

The 17 Randori no Kata contains the essence of all of Aikido.  The 17 is all you ever need to learn.  the 8 Releases and The 17 will bestow the power of the "Magic Whack" upon your push-hands.  This IS The 17 that you are looking for.  The 8 Releases and The 17 is "It" and to study beyond the 8 Releases and The 17 is, in a word, "Simply Not Necessary"...................................... "

Really?

L.F. Wilkinson, Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, Texas

December 2013

 

 

 

 


132. Tastes Like Chicken

Have you ever noticed that the phase, "Tastes like chicken" seems to be the most repeated phrase in the English language?  Well, maybe not but then again, never let an exageration stand in the way of a good story.

That phrase however does seem to be the standard by which all "mystery meat" is judged and is often used for comparitive purposes.  Just the other day on a Face Book page that is used by the subdivision I live in, someone made a post about how their front yard had been dug up in the middle of the night by a pack of wild hogs.  Well, we do live next to a wilderness area that is probably a couple of thousand acres in size but I seriously doubt that a pack of feral hogs came through the guard gate at the front of the subdivision, walked down the main street to his yard, rooted around a bit and then left the same way, all without being seen by anyone or at least barked at by the neighbor canines.

I commented on his post that it was likely an armadillo since I've seen them walking around the neighbors' yards before and indeed, I have my own armadillo problems and have to put out repellant to prevent them from digging up my grass as they search for that tasty grub for their dinner plate.

One thing led to another and I ended up posting a recipe for how to cook roast armadillo; a culinary treat common to South Texas and Northern Mexico .... a little garlic, a little chili powder, some cumino and of course ... bacon to keep it moist and juicy and give it a little more flavor.

So of course (of course), during the series of posts and comments by a couple of dozen people calling for everything from organizing a feral hog-hunt to whether or not we're allowed to discharge .300 Remington Magnums in the neighborhood to bringing in tracking dogs to feret out the armadillos to what to have as a side dish with the armadillo someone asked that magic question, that question that is the foodie equivalent of "42", to wit, "Does it taste like chicken"?

So there you go.  The way to find out how something/everything tastes.  Compare it to chicken.

So why "chicken"?  Why not, "So does it taste like artichoke"?  Or how about, "Does it taste like nutra rat or speckled trout or red cabbage"?

I had to ponder on that one for about as long as it took to knock back a double scotch on the rocks and voila!  It suddenly struck me like slap in the face with a dirty tail feather.

The Gods of the Universal Creation of Everything and Everything Beyond That gave us a benchmark by which all else can be judged and evaluated.  Does It Taste Like Chicken and if so, how?  Something easy, common and universally accessible.  Something we all know well.

Notice how useful this benchmarking comparison is and how it is used in the foodie decision making process ...... 

  • No, it tastes nothing like chicken (so do I really want to try this mystery meat that looks like it has little feelers still moving around in the air)
  • Yes, it tastes a little like chicken (ok, then I may try it out by starting with a small bite just to see before I really dig in)
  • Yes, it tastes like chicken but it's much tougher (alright then, it's likely range fed which means it may be a little gamey and stringy but edible none-the-less .... darn "greenies" ... why can't they buy their chicken at the store like the rest of us and get something a little more tender and tasty)
  • Yes, it tastes a little like chicken but it's a little milder/stronger (ok, it's safe within tolerable limits so maybe if I put some salt on it and a little peach salsa we can choke this down, now what are having for aperitif's to prepare for this "bird-fest" ... I need to build my appetite first)
  • Yes, it's the best bird ever (ah HA! .... it must be southern fried chicken with that scrumptous crispy crust, lets scoop out the mashed potatoes and gravy and pour the sweet tea, we're having a feast)

Do you see?  Using the taste of chicken as a benchmark by which to judge other food has universal value and utility.  Why would anyone compare food to the taste of broccolli or rutabaga when you can use chicken as the universal benchmark instead.  Heck, I bet you that cave-bound monks in Tibet who haven't seen daylight since they hit puberty use the taste of chicken in determining whether or not they want to try a taste of that "thing" sitting on the plate in front of them.  (Caves are dark you see .... or don't see).

So "benchmark chicken" has value ............... just like kihon and basic kata that teaches bunkai and fundamental principles.

Bet you thought I was never going to get to the martially-artsy part of this did you?

If The Gods of the Universal Creation of Everything and Everything Beyond That gave us chicken by which we can judge whether or not to eat that "blob" sitting on the plate in front of us, or that's flying around the campfire, or that's twitching on the spit over the glowing coals then it's simply logical to assume that the Gods of Budo and How To Kick Max-Booty would give us the same kind of benchmark by which to judge and evaluate advanced kata and other such ninja-esque ideas.

This is called fundamental principles as applied by properly structured kihon and basic kata; the "Budo Chicken Benchmark" as-it-were.

By keeping your principles clean, by not changing the basic waza and kihon every 5 seconds in order to fit some "new idea" of exploration, by following the fundamentals religiously and strictly (erect posture, unbendable arm, hands in pushing position, move on the balls of the feet, sliding feet, knees bent, eyes focused/unfocused, proper breathing, lines of off  balance, sen, distance, angle and timing) then if someone shows us some "magic" idea that looks good on the surface then we can pull out our "Budo Chicken" and use it as a benchmark by which to judge that bill of goods being sold to us.  We can decide to "consume" that new Budo-Stuff or simply ignore it as simply being one more bad plate of food that should be thrown out.

How much material do you see on the internet that has NO value (but that looks good or  "pretty")?

How much of your own art form (Tomiki Ryu Aikido in my case) do you see on the internet that is just garbage whereby someone takes a clean technique/waza and "experiments" on it until it's just no longer anything recognizable or useful.

How do you judge whether or not that "thing" you see on the internet is even close to what it should be?  Easy.  Pull out your "Budo Chicken Benchmark" (kihon and basic waza) and use the benchmark.  If what you are looking at has no fundamental similiarity to the benchmark then it has no value.  So throw it out like the salmonella-infested chicken carcass that it is and look for something that truly "tastes like chicken".

OK.  Time for brunch.  Think I'll pull out that BBQ chicken I grilled last night and be creative with my spices.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei, Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, Texas

July 2013


131. Help me! Help me! It won't let me go.

"... I know you probably scream and cry that your little world won't let you go ..."

This phrase from the song "Are You Experienced" by Hendrix (one of my personal favorite artists from way back yonder yesteryear) describes the state of affairs for many martial artists today.  Stuck in a rut.  Teaching the same-o-same-o year after year.  Never changing.  Never reconsidering.  Never reviewing.  Going stale.  Unable to escape your little world (or unwilling actually); almost like a big minnow in a small jar.

Over the last year or so we've become increasingly more focused on our tanto work and doing so has necessitated our "review and reconsideration" of the tanto work left us by Tomiki in his Aikido Ryu.

One historical item that I was unaware until fairly recently was that since he built most of his teaching pedagogy after the end of WW II he was apparently influenced in his tanto work by the level of street crime in Japan.  Imagine a broken country with everyone starving to death, no jobs to speak of, some living in cardboard boxes, entire cities burnt to the ground and still not fully rebuilt 10 or 15 years later  ... a country in the process of trying to remember and rediscover who and what it was, and was becoming.  

The sensei I spent 20 odd years training under used to tell stories about training at the Kodokan during the 1950's and taking gifts of cartons of cigarettes and cans of spam and food to the teachers there so that they literally could eat and feed their families; sometimes using the cigarettes as barter for other items they needed, but had no money for.

Forbidden to own firearms (a holdover from both Samurai law where only Samurai could have weapons and the Allied Occupation) many Japanese carried knives and attacks in some cities were apparently quite frequent (in contradiction to today's view of Japan as a "crimeless society") which while it may be today, 50 or 60 years ago it wasn't.

Tomiki's tanto work and subsequent tanto randori concepts were focused on defense against a tanto but the attacks as seen in his kata and randori were structured (in my view) around classical use of the tanto and for whatever reason, were adequate for randori practice but not truly reflective of an efficient knife-fighter.  

They were also limited in that the attacks were either broad overhead stikes, big circular attacks aimed at the kidneys or simple forward thrusts.  All-in-all not too shabby for practice and easily cleaned up by lots of randori where the attacks would naturally evolve in the heat of the moment as-it-were but still, not truly reflective of how to actually "use" the knife and "think" like a true knife fighter.  

So IMO, while Tomiki Aikido has a much greater emphasis on using and defending against the tanto than probably any other style (of Aikido), it still lacks a method by which to teach the mental, aggressive, cut them down fast mentality that could change Tomiki tanto work from "merely good" to "incredibly dangerous" which would in turn, create "real ability" to defend against a knife attach and not simply do "randori" or "shiai". 

Don't get me wrong here.  It is truly a great place to start your training in tanto and it is capable of teaching very effective knife defense.  I've never had to use it in a real knife fight but personally knowing a couple of players who have and knowing at least one other player at a different dojo who used it very successfully after being attacked, I feel confident that it is, and remains, an effective study. 

However .............

During the Vietnam era and in the period immediately after that, the US Military was evaluating the lessons learned from that experience and began looking for ways to create a new animal for the battlefield.  Some things such as the New Earth Battalion and staring at goats were tried for a while and eventually discarded but one item that survived and was successful (at least until replaced by the Budo Du'Jour after a change of command) was a new form of knife work developed for Spec Ops by Michael Echanis (one of the original goat staring guys).  This form of knife work, while using strokes and moves that everything else out there used, had a new "mental" emphasis that can best be summed up as, "all in or all out, there is no in-between".

Many forms of knife work use 3 ma-ai; basically close-in, middle distance and far distance.  The issue with this however, is that too much time is spent and taught at the middle distance, basically the distance used in "The Mark of Zorro" where you dual and exchange cuts or as one of my deshi put it (apparently from knifework learned prior to joining us) "you cut, I cut, you cut, I cut".

So I asked the obvious (at least to me) question of, "Why in the H___ do you want to learn a system where the emphasis is on programming your subconscious mind to accept the idea of being cut in order to give you a chance to cut him first?  The fact is, no matter how good you think you are you're likely to have to accept some level of carving on yourself anyway; but why make intuitive a system in which y0u plan on being cut in order to cut (e.g. playing Zorro and dualing at the "middle" distance)?  Why not stay outside the range (of being cut) and then jumping in to finish the opponent in the fastest and most efficient way possible?  Dualing at the middle distance strikes many of us having the mental quality of "hanging back" until you are sure of that open opportunity to cut.  So again, why build a mental attitude of "waiting" for the magic moment to arrive and thus providing the more proactive/aggressive attacker a means to enter your zone (as you wait around and dual he may just jump the goat so-to-speak)?

So the Echanis system, by using what a Budo-man could refer to as "classic kihon and kata" forms, uses a system in which there is NO middle distance.  You stay outside the range and if he violates the range then you parry and go for a fatal stab or deep slash or, if he offers an opening in his defense then you jump in FAST and take him.  There is no slashing, dualing, or cut-for-cut; only "all in or all out" with no middle distance to speak of; the allowable operating ma-ai dropping out the middle range and effectively having only far and close.

This pedagogy creates that efficient and aggressive mind-set that Tomiki randori has classically lacked and that Tomiki randori/shiai (don't get me started on the shiai issue) lacks.  And no, don't tell me that competition with a big rubber sausage wrapped in white leather with a red dot on the end is the same.  It just isn't unless you let me stab you in the face or bladder with it and also allow me to add atemi with my free hand and then drive it through you until you fold up like a lawn chair.

However, as fun as this all sounds and as much as I'm enjoying developing  (with the help of an ex-military man who was trained in this system and is teaching it to us), the true beauty of this is something entirely different that even Echanis spoke of  all those years ago, something that apparently even he considered to actually be MORE important than just learning the knife.............. and that is the creation of a teaching environment in which both players learn to become as efficient as possible as the attacking uke, which in turn produces a tori defender who must now change his mind-set to one that is more serious, more focused and more "efficient" with no extraneous movements allowed; basically creating the cleanest and most efficient knife system possible which in turn, re-wires your head to become more efficient in everything you do, not just when holding a tanto.

How many times do Aikido Sensei talk a good talk about uke giving "real attacks" but those "real" attacks look like my grandmother getting up for a fresh mimosa.  No matter how good the physical movements look, where is the mental aspect of uke giving a good, focused and efficient attack (efficient being BOTH physical AND mental in its intensity)?  This doesn't mean vicious and dangerous training.  This only should be viewed as controlled intensity such that if tori doesn't get serious in their mind then uke may scare them. 

One story that comes to my mind here is that of my wife being called upon to uke for a jodo promotional demo at a Houston seminar many years ago.  A jodo student from out of town wanted to demo for promotion but his normal uchidachi failed to attend.  During the demo she literally scared him to death with a 2/3'ds speed attack.  It wasn't the speed that make him cry out and literally jump back (almost failing his promotional exam) but instead, it was her mentality, that projection of focus and intensity that communicated to him the idea of, "Here I come!  Move well or die where you stand!" as she did the jodo techniques, itself a paragon of efficient kihon and waza.

Pretty thought provoking isn't it?  At least it was for me when I sat down and really gave some serious thought to it.  Producing the most efficient uke possible by using mind-set and the most dangerous and efficient attacks possible, in turn producing a tori who becomes even better than thought possible.  It may start in learning to use and defend against the knife (using efficiency instead of loose sloppiness and taking out that "dualing" thing ma-ai that looks good only on paper) but it certainly should carry over to empty hand practice also; esp. once skill in toshu randori is reached.

Thank about this for a second.  In hand/toshu randori how long can a player survive if operating only at the middle "dualing" distance?  Doesn't a skilled randori player operate at far distance first, setting up the kuzushi, or the aiki or the internal power (your choice of descriptive pronouns) before closing fast to the near/close-in ma-ai and then finishing the opponent for the atemi, joint lock or throw?

The mentality should be the same.  If we claim to use efficient attacks but leave out the mentality of it all, if we worship the middle ma-ai because we feel safe by not closing and by "dualing" then the only thing we've really accomplished is what some MA's from other art forms keep claiming about Aikido; that it's just a dance with no real feeling to it, looking good but accomplishing little.

As Hendrix said (or as I am paraphrasing), "come out of your little world and make it let you go.  There's a big world out there to see", but you have to go look for it.

So now you've got a new idea to work in your tanto, jodo or hand randori.  Get after it and see you on the mat.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei, Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, Texas

July 2013


130. Real, Not-Real, Un-Real, Really Real - Part 2

Newaza.  I'm an Aikido player.  I don't need no stinking newaza.

Hmmm .... sounds a little "limiting" to me.  I thought the Gracies disproved that idea a long time ago in the original UFC #1.

Certainly.  If we assume that your Aikido is "perfect" and that you are able to fend off, re-direct and control any attack/attacker who happens to look your way as they consider you in the same light as a hungry coyote looks at a chicken as being dinner on the claw, then certainly; you don't need no "stinking newaza".  But lets consider something for a moment.

I hate coffee tables.  I loathe coffee tables of all shapes, sizes, types, configurations and uses.  I don't have one in my house and never will.  In my opinion all coffee tables in the galaxy should be immediately outlawed, hauled out to the front yard and set on fire as we all stand around the flames cooking a fresh batch of "s-mores" singing Kumbaya in Japanese.

Why, you ask, do I so loathe coffee tables?  

Why, thank you for asking.  Have you ever been to a party with a crowd of loud, roudy drunks and suddenly found yourself between an idiot and a coffee table?  Ever had the idiot push you and you step back into and over the coffee table and you are now looking up (from the floor) at the idiot who has decided that he fails to see the beauty of how you wear your hair?  That was back in high school, well before I ever tied my obi or took my first ukemi.  It went no further than that and the drunk laughed and went on a search for a pony keg that hadn't floated yet but it did make an impression on me that remains.

Today, because of that happening (I've gone bald since then and no longer have to worry about people not liking my hair-dew) but I studiously try to avoid anything that looks like it could trip me as I dance around the room "Ueshiba Style".  

The moral here is simply that even if we do our Aikido perfectly and without error or mishap, then we still can trip all by ourselves over coffee tables, fire hydrants, your wifes' purse or small farm animals.  So in a very real sense we NEED some level of newaza ability in order to cope with that "worst case" scenario.  By our having that ability we retain confidence in our Aikido and will step bigger and move more dynamically, pulling out all the stops; because we know intuitively that should it all fall apart we can still handle the worst case, on your back with him on top, disaster.  The idea here is not to shift into UFC mode, but instead to control him and get back up as soon as possible and practical.

Rolling around on the floor is not the true Aikido players' focus or idea of a good time in the old town tonight (as the song goes) but its' instead a small part of our overall training regimen.  As a comparision we could use automobiles as a metaphor.  If you only ever drive an automatic and have never used a clutch and a standard transmission then what do you do if the tidal wave is coming and you have to jump in the car in order to escape fast enough to stay ahead of the 40 or 50 mph wave and the only, the ONLY car in the parking lot is a standard?  So now, as you run as fast as your little legs will go, the last thing to pass through your mind (other than debris carried in the wave) is the thought, "Why in the hell did I not learn to drive a clutch?"

Aikido could be compared to an automatic transmission with quick-shifters and high-performance overdrive.  The standard could be looked at as being newaza.  You don't like driving the standard, but sometimes it just may come in really handy.

As Aikido players we have to have a view of the "Real" world that we live and train in.  We can't just up and decide that only we know what's real because that becomes "Not-Real".  Then when you get whacked due to not being prepared you'll be on the floor saying to yourself, "OMG that's Un-Real" and the guy standing over you will be replying back, "No.  That was Really Real".

Go find a mat and someone who knows an little ground work and just lay down once in a while.  Who knows.  You might like it.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

June 2013

 


129. Real, Not-Real, Un-Real, Really Real - Part 1

In lessons for the last week or so we've covered ne-waza, the bane of Aikido players.  Classically and traditionally Aikido has no ne-waza, or grappling either ........

Ask any self-respecting Aikido Sensei and they'll tell you ... O'Sensei's Aikido never had and wasn't intended to have any groundwork.  If it did, then O'Sensei would have included it.

Being the contrarian that I am, I of course believe otherwise.  It's always been my opinion that in the early years, when Ueshiba was teaching and developing Ueshiba-ha Aikijutsu and then Aikibudo that likely everyone who came to him already had more than a smattering of all areas of martial arts including grappling.

Tomiki for example came to Ueshiba holding a 7th dan in Judo that he had earned under Kano and Kano had taught several old, classical forms of jujutsu such as Kito Ryu.  Takashita had prior experience as did Inoue and everyone else; especially since many accounts hold that in order to train under Ueshiba a prospective student needed senior rank in a prior art form and/or a personal recommendation from someone important along with demonstrable intent and ability.

So if everyone who trained at the "Hell Dojo" already had extensive experience in various areas including some form or level of ne-waza then they had no real reason to study ne-waza from Ueshiba.  They were there to learn aikijutsu  ........ Daito Ryu Aikijutsu more specifically, and Ueshiba-ha Aikijutsu/Aikibudo.  In a sense, IMHO, they already knew much and they were there to engage in a high-level PhD study of a much larger Budo than what they already knew; something more expansive and with a much greater potential for personal growth.

However, with that said unfortunately, most present day Aikido is taught by, and to, players who have for the most part never trained in anything other than Aikido and if they have, it likely contained no grappling.  So in their universe Aikido simply has no ne-waza and never has; their having no understanding that Ueshiba's original students came to him with that knowledge already in their possession.

Ne-waza systems can be very sophisticated with great potential for submission of the attacker.  This potential comes from the very tight control of the attacker that tori can establish by using body dynamics, weight distribution and efficient application of internal power.  Because of this potential, practice has to be very tightly disciplined which I find to be a good fit with the Aikido mentality for logically structured practice.  The benefits however are immense.

I have observed many Aikido players over the years with a fear of truly committing to the throw due to a fear, albeit it subconscious, of falling or being drug down to the ground by the attacker.  Knowing, and having confidence in a groundwork system removes that fear or hesitation and allows the defender to commit fully and totally to the technique.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

June 2012


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