Principles of Martial Arts Training Feed

149. But Coach, I Don't Get It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX June 2017

 


148. Samurai Highlander

I have a standing dumb joke with one of the senior’s in the dojo about wanting to get a prescription to the majic pill (no, not that one, not the blue one where if you take too much they have to stand you in the corner like a 12 gauge that’s past ready to fire ……. the OTHER one); the one that lets you live a lot longer than “Four Score and Ten”.  The one that big political figures like Kissinger and Rockefeller (well actually he died recently so maybe not him) and Bro’ Jimmy Carter apparently take that causes all those tv commercials on “telo-years”.  Man.  Those guys are old but they’re still going strong.  And how did they fly past all those health issues I saw in the news.

My goal you see is to make history by having the first 250 year old dojo but with me still in charge and with the same “geezers” around abusing the youngsters; youngsters being those less than a century or too on the mat.  Fantasy huh?  Or at least until the science is in but a nice one for a simple reason.

How do you get to be a Jedi (nods to Lucas)?  Decades on the mat.  How do you get to be that good, that high-level, and that incredibly powerful with your In-Yo-Ho?  How do you become a Tengu; the ones who taught all the mythical kenshi their craft and their art.

Easy (not).  Go to class a lot.  Get corrected a lot.  Get thrown a lot.  Throw other people a lot.  Get lots of correction from the really old guys in the corner (aka “Sensei dogs” who sit in the corner like an old blue tick hound dog and bark ….  a lot).

My, but that’s certainly a lot of “a lots”.  Why yes it is; but it’s important for a couple of reasons.

First, a good system is so large that it can contain hundreds if not thousands (some quote the figure of 1,500 more or less in the original, fully constructed Daito Ryu).  While numbers of total waza in the studies can be discussed (I personally have never done much research in that area of other ryu) the number can be large.  So this means that the deshi must go through the full ryu with all of its waza a sufficient number of times for EVERY SINGLE TECHNIQUE so that the internalization can take place.

I’ve always been taught by my seniors who understand the 250 year idea that to make a brief pass through the system but then only really focus on a relatively small handful of waza and kata (like the 8 Releases and the 17 Attack Movements/Ju Nana Hon in Tomiki Ryu) is a serious error.  While you may become really good at that small grouping, you are leaving out the complete development and full training of your subconscious in the broad and deep range of the ryu; a ryu that could have several hundred years and who knows how many combats and deaths involved in its’ development.  It’s not something a police combat instructor just pulled together in order to have something for a course for cadets.

We’ve trained in koryu jodo for several years now and have finally begun to understand that every movement, every kata, every kamae has a purpose, a reason, a cause celeb’ for existing, and to leave out even one, or to fail to completely internalize its structure and reflexes is a mistake.  Each kata teaches a specific lesson, instills a specific reflex, and teaches transitions from one kamae to another that is reflected in your body movement, posture, and structure.

Since koryu jo came directly out of life and death conflicts (one early kata set is taught as being actual moments of battle directly passed down, the survivor taught it to his deshi, the loser’s ideas were abandoned and buried with him) then the ryu as a whole is designed to change you to its’ requirements; not for you to “make it your own”, a trite, often misunderstood, and totally misquoted phrase popular in dojos that teach for the hobby crowd and not the combat aspect.

Second, only by much practice does your body and neural structures change to adapt to the stresses and requirements of the koryu and of the Aiki-Kiai-In-Yo-Ho.  Developing the ability to use the proprioceptors in your feet and hands (and entire body), developing brute physical strength, core strength, stretching, strengthening, and efficiently using the fascia in your body (internal power) are only fully understood and developed by more practice than what people think to be necessary. 

There are even some studies indicating that physical training when undertaken over a sufficient amount of time even changes your genetics; an interesting idea when the stuff of legends is considered.

The koryu changes everything as shown by examples.  One old training partner trained with me for years and took an uncountable number of ukemi.  He needed his gall bladder removed and after surgery the doctor called him the “sit-up king” and asked how many sit-ups he did every day.  His answer?  None, other than a few as a warm-up before class.  He had simply been thrown thousands of times over the years and had over time developed abdominal musculature normally only seen in professional weight lifters.  His body had hardened and toughened, and could therefore take more punishment than mere civilians.  He had a “combat body” in a very real sense.

The second deshi, also having taken thousands of ukemi had an MRI done and during the scan, the doctor noticed that all of his bones were denser than usual and had micro-fractures running through all of them; also a product of thousands of ukemi, throw and be thrown.

Other examples are legion but one of the most common is catching things out of the air without looking at them.  Putting coffee cups on the top shelf is one, where you put the cup up high and look away as you do.  The coffee cup falls and without turning back, you put out your hand and catch it mid-fall and put it back.  We’ve also observed people catch things thrown at them such as tennis balls (“Hey.  Let’s see if we can surprise him”) or use a sword to knock an arrow out of the air.  You can’t really look or focus on the arrow.  You have to use peripheral vision and just “sense” it; a skill developed only in martial arts with specific drills and not something easily developed (not learned mind you but developed) in normal day-to-day life.

You could call these “Ninja Arts” or “Jedi Arts” or “Tengu Arts” but in truth, your body and nervous system has changed over years of training.  You have come closer to having the same kind of abilities that scientists observe in predators in the wild; abilities not dulled by a soft existence in civilization.  Abilities the ancient Samurai and Bushi had which is where the old stories all come from.

Finally, only by being on the mat a sufficient period of time can you acquire the “mat seasoning” necessary to finally begin to see what is and is not important, what the juniors are doing right and wrong, and what to correct (and how to correct it) so that they too can hit those high levels of performance. 

What subtle moment are they missing?  What reaction is not yet fully developed?  What posture are they carrying (does their body reflect the spirit of the ryu or is something subtly and subconsciously missing, something that can’t be “described” but rather “felt” or “sensed”).  Are they moving like a cougar, or more like an agile and well-trained (but “still-beached”) whale?

You become a better judge of the efficient vs. the non-efficient, the In-Yo-Ho vs. the fakery.  You begin to see the “magic” of waza; the application that is so advanced that the young warrior, lacking the time on the mat, the seasoning, the deep intuitive knowledge becomes frustrated literally to the point of tears as this old guy stands there with a drink in his hand and uses one finger to defeat him and make him harmless.  This is something that is simply beyond being a mere teacher or player.

My Sensei was one of the last of the true Bushi (professional warrior).  He was never a Samurai (royal servant) and in fact was at times a bit of an iconoclast.  He spent every day training 6 to 7 days a week 6 to 8 hours a day so that in comparison to someone only training once or twice a week, he was simply putting in massive hours changing his body structure, his neural pathways, his intuitive reflexes and responses, his ability to utilize all the principles (metsuke, musubi, in-yo-ho, for starters). 

He and I once calculated that it would take the average deshi (training only 3 times a week for 2 hours a time about 8 years to equal what he did in only one year.  So now imagine (for the sake of argument) a Sensei who could train for 250 years.  It would take the normal 3 classes a week student two millennia to equal that.  Consider the differences in ability.

Kind a silly argument but, if one thinks about the impact of just time on the mat …….

His body over time became shaped by the ryu and his walk and mat performance reflected it as did his carriage (and character as he stood back and judged lesser players from his more mature and seasoned position).  Unfortunately, he like we all, aged and time was a bit unkind (but that matters not to his story).  He, like all long-term Sensei, shows the possibilities of the effects of long-term training.  Ergo, my desire to somehow become the first 250 year old Sensei running the dojo and doing "stuff".  Time (or sheer hours on the mat) is what makes the difference.  Plus, that humidor of cigars I’m aging (along with that special bottle of scotch) should be ready to go at the 250 year mark.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX April 2017


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.

Pleeeease.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

March 2017


140. Wham, Bam, Thank You Mam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

November 2016


139. Wakey-Wakey Eggs n’ Bakey

Wakey-Wakey Eggs n’ Bakey.  How many times did I hear that as a youngster growing up in a South Texas household?  Too many times it seems. Eggs (usually fried in the bacon drippings).  Toast on the side. Butter.  Jam.  Cold milk.  Yum (or as the ‘net geeks say today …. Nom-nom-nom).  65 years old and I still don’t know what the hell “nom-nom” really means.  Must be Martian-Speak ‘cause I just can’t see how that replicates the smackin’ n’ droolin’ that occurs during breakfast (at least at my house some 60 odd years ago with two little boys and parents pressed and in a hurry to get to work).

So what is about bacon and eggs that causes pigs and chickens to be such an important part of our existence?  Why does four legs laying on a plate next to a two legged bird-spawn have such an impact on us?  Basic.  Primitive.  Fundamental.  Primal.  That’s why.  Simple.  Easy to fix.  Not complex.  Easy to eat.  Tastes good.  Real down home country style comfort food.  Not like that plate from the Earth Gaia-Mother food mart.  You know the one.  Granola and yogurt with green tea. Green tea?  For breakfast?  Are you a Communist or do you just hug trees?  Everyone from Alley Oop the caveman to modern man in a business suit can look at abstract paintings and still identify the pig and chicken.  I mean ……. what else could there be.  Compare bacon and eggs to say, haggus (“Hey, that looks like swollen road kill”), sushi (“Isn’t that supposed to be deep fried and served with a side of chips and vinegar”), or coq a vin (“Can’t find the chicken bits there’r being so many mushrooms”).

Bacon and eggs.  Quick and fundamental nutrition; quick to do, fast to digest, puts meat on your bones, just like kihon.  Not complicated or taking days to prepare.

Huh?  “Sensei ……. Chotto matte kudasai ….. How does bacon and eggs compare to kihon”?  So ………. you weren’t listening the first time?  I said ………….. easy, quick, fundamental, nutritious.  Much faster and will put meat on your bones as opposed to the hours, days even it take to prepare much more complicated fare that doesn’t have near the level of basic nutritional values. 

Bacon & Eggs (equals) kihon and fundamentals.  Bacon & Eggs does not equal internal power or ura level kata.  Bacon & Eggs.  Most all the nutrition you need for the training table. Heavy protein and vitamins.  Calcium and potassium.  Why do you think that athletic meals for football teams and the like seem to always encompass some variation of bacon and eggs?  I remember playing high school football and even if it was a night game the coaches always fed us bacon, sausage, eggs, milk, etc. before the game because it was easy to digest and gave energy for the 4 quarters of the game.  The heavy meal (the deep fried chicken platter or the chicken fried steak ……… see the theme here?) only came after the game was over with and everyone had been bandaged and taped and showered and was ready to go home for some sleep before getting up the next day for “Two A Day’s” and prep’ing for next weeks game.

I’ve been off the blog now for about two years but, have been re-posting all the past blogs which has allowed for a review of the old and the inspiration of the new. Seeing what you wrote a decade ago is interesting.  Funny thing happened tho’ on the way to the forum (dojo actually) and that is that some things never change.  When I first began to blog ten or so years ago I wrote that everyone was in love with material that was too advanced for them to really understand, much less become fully functional with.  That is still the case unfortunately but the tendency to ignore the hard work in favor of the quick and flashy is still with us and I suspect, always will be.

So what is the purpose of eggs and bacon?  It’s a fast, cheap, easy way to feed the family for the long day ahead in the fields or the classrooms and it takes little time to prepare; time being one of the most precious commodities these days.  So what is the purpose of kihon?  It’s a fast, cheap, easy way to prepare the deshi for the long randori ahead in the dojo or the theme park outside the dojo and it is the most efficient means by which the foundation of more advanced material can be taught in the least amount of class time.

How much kata and how many waza do we need; really? The concept of tokui-waza demonstrates that out of possibly 100’s of waza, you only really use less than a dozen consistently over the long-term.  By consistent, repetitive practice of the basics done literally thousands of times, the few waza that are truly useful can be made most effective.

Look at more advanced material?  Absolutely, but spend most of your time on the basics; and then have some bacon and eggs to sustain yourself and put some meat on your bones before going after all that exotic, high level but low protein food (granola) and kata (or internal power).  You’ll get more benefit.

Pass the coffee pot and another side of ukemi please sir.

L.F. Wilkinson-Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

October 2016


138. A Long Comment On The State Of The Budo-Verse

When I started martial arts in 1969 it was with a fresh faced innocence and a totally open mind.  Like most of my generation, I had been raised on Bruce Lee in the tv series “Green Hornet” (“Hey Kato, get the car!”) along with steady doses of The Pink Panther who had his own Kato for comic relief (“NoooooOOO Kato, Not Now!), and David Carradine in the tv series “Kung Fu” (“Ah yes grasshopper, man who stand on street corner and hold sandwich in hand soon find many 4-legged friends”).

 A lot of folks remember those cultural guideposts but the difference is that I was there for the premiere and not the re-runs.

 Basically, martial arts of all kinds were still pretty new.  It was only the 1960’s and most MA were being taught either by Orientals who emigrated here after WW II or by American servicemen just back from posting in the East.  My Sensei began his MA career in Judo as an Air Force recruit and was eventually posted to Japan where he met other servicemen and training partners who were part Douglas MacArthur’s SCAP (Supreme Command Allied Pacific).  Those senior military and Judo people were part of the larger group responsible for the lifting of the ban against the practice of MA in Japan.

 In a very real sense then my Sensei and the others were the ones who saved MA since at that point they had been outlawed.  One Japanese Sensei I trained under extensively (in Aikido and Jodo) once quietly spoke of training at night by candle light in out of the way locations because of the threat of being arrested by American M.P.’s in search of ex-military fighters and enforcing the ban on the practice of martial arts.  She never liked talking about the war very much having lived through the worst parts of it and when we took her to Washington, D.C. on a training tour she refused to visit any monuments pertaining to the Pacific conflict and turned her head away as we drove by, but at the same time seemed to respect (but was very solemn) when we took her to visit the National Cemetery; that was how strongly that time period had impacted her life and how much each side in the conflict had lost.

 So I relate this by way of illustrating how little was known about MA of any kind when it came out of the East and entered the West in a big way, post WW II.  It was so new to Americans (everything known or suspected about it being mysterious) that almost all the information we had access to contained two very curious but important ingredients;

 FIRST, it was all true, complete and pretty accurate (as far as we were concerned) since no one knew enough to begin to lie or invent myths about it (that came much later as the commercial value manifested itself).  We were all totally ignorant.  All the information was coming from people who were “fresh from the source or head-waters” as it were and because of that there were few skeptics on the mat.  No one even knew enough to be a skeptic when the person teaching had been "over there" and no one else in the room had.  We were all sponges soaking up any drop of knowledge that hit the floor and were completely enthralled by anyone who had actually made the pilgrimage TO Japan; much less actually being FROM Japan.

 SECOND, everything was “magical” with the stories from our teachers containing all the wonder of people flying over cars and into walls and of Sensei being able to control any opponent with one finger only.  The only thing anybody who heard stories like that said was something to the effect of, “Great!  When do we have that lesson and where’s my uke?  I’m ready!”

 So now amplify this by the fact that we all, to one degree or another, were “flower children” of the 60’s; the actual beginning of the very first Indigo/Crystal Child generation, looking for meaning and purpose by abandoning our Christian, Jewish, Catholic, Agnostic, Atheist upbringings and looking to the East.  Rebels all, each in our own way.  My parents never understood and in all the years I trained they only saw me practice once, and afterwards my father walked out of the dojo shaking his head and mumbling something about a "tire tool" being a better weapon.

 The East was different because everything was or seemed non-logical and intuitive in execution.  The terms “total immersion training”, “intuitive assimilation”, “aiki”, "ki power",  “moving Zen”, “reflexive response”, or “intuitive reflexes”, "internalization", and the like were common and regularly heard in the dojo’s of that time period.  Everyone came to the dojo to train in Aikido or Judo or weapons forms with a completely open mind, with no negative or skeptical attitudes and a willingness to do the research (both in and outside the dojo) that was necessary not only to learn but to excel.

 All of us at one time looked into and briefly pursued things such as Transcendental Meditation, Zen, Buddhism, Taoism, Arica, Gurdjieff, Mikkyo, EST and the like.  We all jumped at the chance to take Tai Chi and acupressure massage/joint manipulation when a teacher came from Japan and offered it and some eventually became professionals at various forms of body manipulation that studied manipulating energy flows because we believed her when she said it would improve our Aiki-do and enable us to become stronger both internally and externally.

 We (all of us) searched and looked and experimented and tried it all.  The net result was a large group of us who finally became senior players, some of whom now teach and run their own dojo and MA organizations.  Others are now dead, some are spiritually lost individuals, at least a couple in temple as life-long Buddhist Monks ("Hey!  Bring me a bieru!")  or literally on the reservation as Indian Medicine Men and others have gone on to become part of clans with secrecy clauses backed by literal blood oaths.

 So why do I relate all of this and how does it impact each of you and pertain to lessons that I have found myself falling into of late?

 During that period of discovery and growth of both the MA in general (and within each of us individually) we all were at the spring or the head-waters.  It was all pure.  It was all new.  It was all in the original forms.  Nothing had been watered down and it was all still pure art form, having not yet been distilled, canned and commercialized.

 Perhaps most importantly, all the Sensei and their first couple of generations were taught and understood the foundations, the principles and the benefits of MA as they came directly from the East because if for no other reason than most of it was still under the supervision of the "old guys"; the Tengu; the grizzled Japanese (and Americans who had trained directly under them) who didn't talk much but who could dribble you on the mat like a basketball and never break a smile or a sweat.

 Everyone who walked into those dojo back then got the pure “cask strength Scotch” as it were, not the watered down well-liquor variety where the bar tender takes a bottle that should only pour 32 jiggers and waters it until it will pour twice that.  So all players got a good education in the MA from the technical, strategic and philosophical sides that were fairly complete in the panorama it painted in all of our heads, and in the dreams that it raised in all of us to strive for.

 Today unfortunately, that’s no longer the case.  Over the last 40 years various forms of martial arts have now “gone Olympic”, “gone Hollywood” or gone "use this website and fear no man".  Innumerable books, comics, video games and tv shows have taken their toll on the truth and as a result, almost no one today walking into a dojo has anything approaching a clear picture of what the MA are supposed to be about, much less what they can teach, how powerful they can make the long-term practitioner; and even less of what the ultimate potential of ability and knowledge is for anyone willing to spend 20 to 30 years or more in the steady pursuit of truth and the personal development of mind, body and spirit.

 Everything has been perverted and distorted to the point to where sometimes even I have trouble seeing the true picture.  It has become so commercialized that it's like buying the Mona Lisa in a Paint By The Numbers set that only vaguely resembles the art and has no life nor depth; like a creature from a two-dimensional universe.

 This is one reason why as we steadily move our dojo here in Houston more towards a koryu-type dojo (or at least the closest we can come in an American cultural setting with people who work for a living) I decided some time ago that we will begin to educate everyone in the same classical concepts that I was taught.

 It's time because we finally have (after 15 years of working towards it) a large enough group of committed black belts who will stay around long enough to make that possible.  I can’t teach really advanced ideas unless I have a core of advanced players to assist me in “down-flowing” the concepts to the entire dojo group as a whole.  Without that core of advanced players ready to learn, you are forever stuck at teaching the same fundamentals over and over again because it just won't stick.

 So my players know to look for long lectures on some of the more arcane aspects of Aiki-do and Budo, and on how to open the mind and begin to enlarge ones' life-panorama in a quest for “the big picture”.

 Some of it will be technical but much will be philosophical as it has always been my view (and the view of my teachers) that fully understanding the technical is simply not possible without a firm grounding in the philosophical and the spiritual.  The three cannot be effectively trifurcated and if they are, the net result (given a sufficient time to mutate) becomes the “martial nonsense” that surrounds us today.

 "Internal Power".  "Combat Ready".  "Reality Training".  Pfffbbbtttt.  Get a life for God's Sake.

 This is also a prime reason as to why we require that all new players decide to train only at with us, not be "dual-dojo", and not attend seminars put on by other Sensei in other styles or in other organizations unless discussing it with me and getting my approval first.  I may allow someone who is a brand new beginner to briefly train at their old school in an effort to help them in the transition to us (which granted, can be troublesome at times esp. if their old "dojo" was in a garage or health club) but I will very quickly demand that everyone make the choice of us or them.

 I approve these requests when the material to be taught at a seminar matches what we already do, such as "internal power"; a phrase very much mis-used today and one that 40 years ago was only known as "aiki".  Regardless of what you may call it (I personally like the older term as being more classically descriptive in defining but simultaneously "not-defining" it);  things of this nature are not new and not magical but have always been a part of the fabric of Aikido.  So if some other Sensei has a different way to view and discuss it, I am largely open and have been to a couple of these seminars..

 I don't permit anyone to "dual-dojo" however because I become concerned that a player could come to us and receive good information that is almost immediately negated by someone else telling a different story.  The difficulty then becomes the point at which they begin to go schizoid and bi-polar; Aikido player today and mixed martial artist tomorrow, or Ki Society today and Tomiki tomorrow, as they switch back and forth with no touch-stone or benchmark to gauge themselves against and with no firm foundation upon which to build their life and their martial arts career.

 When I began this rule after opening my dojo 17 years ago it made total sense based on past exeriences.  When I was a white belt and started training in old-style Budo it was expected without a lot of lame discussion.  Today it seems that everyone wants to train everywhere which (when you view how that player performs) results in a clear and total inability to do either Budo #1 or Budo #2 correctly.  What's that saying, "Jack of all martial arts and master of none."  There was a reason behind forbidding the idea of "dual dojo" or of mixing Aikido cum' UFC cum' whatever way-back-when that hold true today regardless of the levels of ignorance out there today in the Budo-verse.

 While I don’t pretend to know it all, or even to understand as much as any of my original Sensei, the simple fact that I’m almost 65 and was there in the dojo when Tomiki personally approved the foundation of his Aikido in the US and anointed my Sensei to run it for him, simply means that I was able to absorb material that is no longer readily available.  Tomiki dictated and Sensei obeyed resulting in a purer and more complete form of transmission.

 I’ve been around so long that all of my colored belt certificates were issued by my Sensei only as a means by which to encourage us because to the Japanese, to real players, a  colored belt was invisible on the mat.  Only a black belt held any real value back then and all of my early black belt diplomas were literally hand carried by special courier from Japan.  Do your demo in front of a Japanese-style grading committee with the grading cards and video tape being sent to Japan for approval,  and assuming you didn't fail, then 6 months later a limo from the Japanese consulate would pull up outside the dojo and a guy in a black business suit with white shirt and black tie would climb out holding a black brief case full of promotional certificates.  And he didn't smile when he walked into the dojo door, bowed, and asked for Sensei.  The first time I saw that I knew that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore (or South Texas either) and it only confirmed that I was both in the right place at the right time, and that I needed to focus and understand the difference between wheat and chaff or the serious vs. the un-serious.

 Today, some 40 odd years later, everyone running a dojo that did not have exposure to those times, teachers and information (or who haven't managed to pick it up since) have an incomplete education in their chosen art form.  We’re now about 4 generations removed with each successive generation resulting in less knowledge being passed on.  They simply don’t have the picture in their head nor the information to pass on that would otherwise inform their students of what old style martial arts are all about (or are supposed to be all about).  They might be very competent in their style of competitive Tae Kwon Do or MMA or kickboxing or Kiddie Jiujutsu or whatever; but none of those are martial arts, instead being modern derivatives based in martial techniques but now totally formulated for sports purposes, military training, law-enforcement or just plain old capitalist marketing and profit seeking.

 This is why in the world of Aikido for example, teachers such as Chiba, Saotome, Ikeda, Tissier, Geis, Loi, Miyake and others like them are so highly regarded and respected in their own right.  People who have trained with them and others like them put them first on their martial resume thus lending credence to their Curiculum Vitae.

 Those senior teachers, and those who studied under them like myself and my peers, came out of those times and today for the most part strive to teach a complete picture of Aikido as being classical, technical, traditional, sophisticated, combat ready and self-defense oriented, but simultaneously a means by which we can grow and mature on a personal and spiritual level; something not possible while preparing for tournaments and international level competitions or doing massive repetitions of techniques more suitable for building aerobic conditioning than improving one’s spirit.

 As a line (paraphrased) in an old movie script written by Bruce Lee said, “That would be true if pigs had wings and could fly”.  However, referring to a pig as being an eagle (or even putting lipstick on it) doesn’t make it so and referring to today’s activities and calling no-contact karate, kickboxing or mixed martial arts (for example) a true and complete martial art, doesn’t make it so.  A true martial art in the old sense works on your body, mind and spirit all at the same time.  A single minded focus on street fighting, tournaments or aerobic conditioning does not.

 So my teaching lessons have for a long time now have essentially dealt with everything that I have discussed above.  When I began martial arts and Aikido many years ago I went into it with several expectations.

  • I would learn self-defense.
  • I would learn and develop a way of looking at the world that would improve my life by teaching me to be more relaxed, more focused and less ADD.
  • I would learn a life-philosophy that would take away my negativity and enable me to think in a more positive fashion; not just sometimes but all of the time.
  • I would become more self-confident in learning something that would allow me to fear no one (or least to fear few).  You can never become bullet proof or invincible but you can begin to greatly minimize the number of people that you are concerned about.
  • I would learn to trust my intuition and not strictly rely only on the dogmatism of logic or the pedantic pedagogy of worn-out maxims, memes and life-motto’s that are often repeated by out-of-work motivational experts and over-sexed/over-paid men of the cloth whether that cloth was spun from King James or Bodidharma.
  • I would learn something that for all intents and purposes was “open ended”.  That is, there was so much material on the technical level and so much inquiry possible on the personal and spibeceome infinite.  It would no longer have a goal or end-point.  It would  become a life-long process of training, learning and improvement of every aspect of my life and by extension, the lives of those around me.

 True martial arts are a process that has no ending in sight so here is the underlying, purely distilled intent; one that speaks both to the technical side (how to train) and to the philosophical side (how to view the role of each training partner) which in and of itself addresses how to set up and consider the training scenario.

 The last time I saw the woman who was my (and my wife's) primary Japanese Sensei she was boarding the plane to fly home after giving Lynn Sensei and I both some very specific marching orders for our training since all of us assumed (quite correctly as it has turned out some 17 years later) that we would likely never see each other again.

 “They (the Japanese players) forgot that the sword exists.”

 What this means is that they began to focus only on the role of tori; and uke became a training dummy and not a very intelligent one at that.  The assumption became over time that uke would never attempt to block and counter, much less counter-attack.  Tori just moved through the kata assuming that he would always win and that uke would always be defeated.  Openings began to appear in what tori was doing because now the mind-set changed from “combat” to “choreography”.  Tori became careless and non-attentive and uke never once thought about what they could do should tori become sloppy and ineffectual.

 In a sense, tori began to develop contempt for the role of uke (and by extension, the person playing that role in training).   Contempt leads to lack of respect, which leads to disregard for the physical well-being of uke, which leads to …… the shadow side.  And once you cross over to the shadow side, all the philosophy and spirtual growth that should be a part of Budo goes away.  The failure to understand the primal nature and fundamental essence of Budo and martial arts makes the philosophical and spiritual no longer visible.

 When considered in the Aikido paradigm we should look at it this way.  I talk about the kata being set up so that tori always follows through and doesn't “pull the punch”.  This idea develops the intuitive ability to not think, just complete and over time it becomes automatic.  Tori throws uke or takes a joint lock and the follow-through to completion becomes so automatic that it can’t fail (due to “pulling the punch” or getting careless).  In fact, once in a panic situation tori not only doesn’t “pull the punch”; the adrenaline surge in their system becomes so massive that they apply maximum power within the confines of principle; that is, they do the technique correctly and now they apply every ounce of power they have, making the technique even more effective.

 But, uke has a role also.  Uke takes the ukemi to escape the striking technique or the joint lock.  Uke, in the case of Oshi-taoshi (a common elbow waza) drops out from under the arm bar as tori begins to apply the lock.  Tori can now follow-through to completion, actually passing through the point at which the elbow would otherwise dislocate if uke were to simply stand in place.

 Uke, by allowing the arm bar to develop but “going with the flow” and dropping down to the floor, trains their subconscious mind to automatically move with the attack, thus avoiding the elbow dislocation that would occur by resisting by dropping to the floor and allowing tori to complete the waza.  Uke now learns that by not resisting and by dropping down or flowing with the execution of the waza, they get to that point at which the most likely opportunity to counterattack occurs and by that flowing with the waza, subconsciously learns whether tori even has the necessary kuzushi.  If tori has it then the waza just "feels" effective and not "resistable".  If tori does not then uke can just (by not resisting) "walk out of the waza" and then easily do a kaeshi waza.

 Thus, both tori and uke learn to internalize all the facets of the technique and how to both take it most effectively and how to escape it most effectively.  This is one manner in which true martial arts were taught.  Both tori and uke learn, understand and through repetitive practice internalize an intuitive response that leads to understanding BOTH sides of the coin; not just the one so many focus on; to wit, how do I win?

 True combat ability, true self-defense, true martial arts should be taught in such a fashion as to enable one to understand that a focus on only one side is incorrect.  Both tori and uke have a role to play and both therefore need each other in order to go beyond mere technique and to emcompass the philosophical mind and the spiritual being with the physical and technical. 

Tori must respect the role of uke and uke must respect the role of tori.  Neither role is more important than the other.  This respect for the role eventually extends to respect for the individual playing that role.  Mutual respect leads to trust and mutual trust leads more effective and greater and faster dynamic training once that understanding of each role and trust is well established.

 Additionally, the understanding should be acquired that although we talk safety, safety, safety, ethics, honest attitudes, trustworthy behavior, trust in each other, respect for every belt either above us or below us in seniority and grade, in the end we do martial arts  and  those martial arts were designed to dismember and incapacitate the opponent.

 Aikido teaches combat arts in addition to ethics.  Losing sight of Aikido’s origins (and failing to properly teach to them) loses sight of the “big picture” that Aikido makes possible so part of Sensei’ job is to relate all aspects of Aikido including those that may at time sound crude or blunt.  In this fashion you gain a more in-depth understanding of Aikido and additionally, why we are so fanatical about safety and trust and how the mind and spirit functions in conjunction with the body; the whole obviously being much larger than the sum of the parts.

 This was the lesson and the directive that was given us and what I will continue to emphasize more and more as our Yudansha develop into real Aikido players.

 So Come to Class, Stay Lean and Stay Hungry.

 L.F. Wilkinson - Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, Texas

October 2014


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

 

 


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