The Warrior's Life Feed

153. Obstacles To Emptying the Tea Cup

I’m not a psychologist but I do play one on TV; or so the saying goes.  However, after training in the martial arts for almost 50 years (since high school) and running my own dojo for the last 20, I’ve had the “opportunity” to watch a lot of disturbing tendencies in prospective players who visit the dojo, some of whom actually passed the initial screening and were on the mat for a time before leaving (or being invited to leave).

Some, a few, not all that many but a noticeable number of prospective deshi walk in the door with an innate belief (if only on a subconscious level and not even in the front of their mind) that the mere possession of testicles (along with a carry permit and a game boy controller) makes them skilled drivers, lovers, and street fighters.  From a practical (and coldly) analytical view of the Budo-verse we know that this is fantasy and simply not the case in spite of how low they lower their voices to growl, “I’ll be back ….. and will start next week”.

Driving a car with too-loud mufflers (that for the world reminds me of an angry bumble bee) and claims to stud-status (“Yo, Adrian”) are topics best left for another day; but the street fighting/martial arts aspect is too obvious to pass up.  I am supposed to be blogging on martial arts, right?

Yes, there are natural athletes. You have dealt with them all of your life and we all remember that guy in high school who lettered in every sport he ever tried out for, generally made team captain, dated the head cheer leader, and who may have been known for pushing Casper up against his locker during the lunch break in the quest for King of the Hallway status during lunch break.

The natural athlete (sports) argument aside, humans are not “natural” martial artists in that high-level physical abilities dealing with potentially life & death scenarios are very much learned skill sets.  I have yet to see a 6 year old who was fully able to intuitively cobble together (and correctly work) a hein kata, a Tai Chi long set, or a decent wrist lock. 

These skills are taught, learned, practiced, and ingrained intuitively only with innumerable hours of practice under a qualified instructor.  Anything less is simply giving the kid a hammer and telling him to sit in the corner and beat on a block of wood, expecting him to somehow come up with an antique roll top desk made out of cross-cut oak.

Yeah.  Yeah.  Yeah.  Just stop it.  I’ve already heard the argument that so-and-so is a natural and has won every fight he was ever in back in high school. 

Keep it to yourself.  That’s little more than mental masturbation with some rationalization thrown in for good measure.  The issue behind that proclamation is the underlying and unmentioned fact that somewhere along the line someone probably offered instruction that he could integrate well enough for a couple of tricks that no one else had seen, or was taught that one punch that works against most or, he was just in so many fights as a young and belligerent walking hormone that he learned a few tricks the hard way, or he’s just a big guy and overwhelms everyone, a sign of genetically gifted size and not necessarily of any true martial ability.

So basically, everyone needs training but an issue here is that due to cultural trends combined with technology we have today bred into men a false ego, a specious external facade that somehow they can succeed without any real effort.  This is the fault of the “everyone gets a trophy” religion, combined with the lack of any sense of responsibly.  It’s “just supposed to be that way” after all.  Compound that with high-tech allowing many young people to exist in a fantasy world, then taking that fantasy with them outside the screen or 3-D goggles and attempting to interface with others and now that false view of “self” is what is communicated.

Now take that one step further, into the dojo where the Sensei gets strange questions about what is and is not possible or what “secret techniques” the student claims to have knowledge of.  I actually had a young man walk into the dojo not all that long ago, get past the initial screening interview since he seemed sincere and then once on the mat he began to talk about whether we taught this or that technique and that he had “seen” a technique that really worked well and he wanted to learn it.

After some questioning, it turned out that he had a video game addiction (my extrapolation of his comments) and the techniques he was asking about (or claiming knowledge of) were things he had seen on the screen in “Secret Samurai Killers From Planet 9 meet the Godzilla Corps” or from a movie on Netflix that he had binged watched; him thinking that all the silliness on the screen was actually based on real ideas and real martial arts.  He was expecting us to know what he “knows” which only served to make him an irritant.  He was invited to train elsewhere.

He was unable to tell the difference and somehow thought that he could translate his “game knowledge” to actual “martial arts ability” with minimal work and was seemingly unable to break with his preconceived notions and be “re-taught” what is and what is not.

These individuals, aside from being lied to by our cultural trends have been instructed (taught) by insidious outside forces (e.g., our current culture at large) and they believe that if someone does in fact ask them to put forth extra effort or to change their current paradigm and learn something new (or if you dare to point out their short-comings or that they are the ones out of line) they bristle and instead of considering the Sensei’ comments as an indication of the need for them to change their ideas and accept the need for retraining, the conversation becomes one of “How dare you tell me I’m not good enough or that I need to work harder?” even though that was not the specifics of what you were attempting to communicate.

Modern men (and women who have interest in martial training) have been conditioned to accept mediocrity as the norm, and that their opinion about a subject is more important than whether or not they can actually perform the task.  They hide in their “Man Cave” playing Xbox thinking they are manly and when called on it and required to "make scratch", become argumentative.

The false ego generated by all the talk and supposition drives modern man to actually avoid professional training.  If they take that big step and attend a course or go to a school they risk having all their pre-disposed notions shattered.  They might discover to their great displeasure that they aren’t actually good martial artists, good at self-defense, and that their favorite bokken is not actually akin to Thor’s Hammer.  And yes, before you ask, I’ve actually had people walk into the dojo with their personalized wooden (or fiberglass bokken), tell me that they’ve been practicing in their garage with friends and then try to show me what they “know” with their having little to no actual dojo time.  All that conversation ceased the moment I picked up my bokken and told them to leave (sometimes it just gets to the point of "too much conversation").

Having been raised in a society that embraces mediocrity and excuses failure, these egos can’t risk the blow.  Their solution is to simply buy more expensive gear and run out to apply for their Concealed Carry Permit and begin to engage everyone they meet with discourses on the best caliber, best carry rigs, ballistics, or what technique they saw in UFC 1,967 work the best and how so-and-so MMA competitor isn't good enough (as if they could come anywhere close to matching even the lowest ranked fighter on the card).

They essentially trade years of work in the martial arts to gain expertise in favor of a quick purchase on their VISA card and time spent searching the internet for websites that have information on SEAL Team 6 tactics ideas from Assassins Creed.

As dojo have matured over the years and as the culture has evolved right along with them, it becomes more and more important to provide adequate explanations to prospective deshi as-to the value of a life-long study of Bushido and this is the task before us; us being the Sensei and the Hatamoto who have taken on the task of preserving traditional martial arts.  Items to explore in upcoming blog ideas.

See you on the mat.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX

December 2017


150. Ever Seen?

Uh, Like Dude, Where Am I?

Understand that where you are is not where you think you are.

Ever seen a fist fight up close?  Ever seen someone step in and try to break it up?

Ever seen someone get in an argument with someone else?  Ever seen anyone make a comment about “can’t we all just get along”?

Ever been in a dojo and seen a junior student voice a half-question/half-opinion?

Ever seen a total stranger walk up to someone and tell them how to act, almost as if they were a parent instead of …… a stranger?

Yeah.  Me too.  And I watched as the fight was re-directed to the interloper and he had his head handed back to him, and as the argument turned into a beat down on the guy with the unwanted opinion, and as the junior student was slammed into the mat and physically escorted to the door of the dojo by Sensei, and as the “imagined parent” came ever so close to being slammed against the wall with the only reason not, being the person who was accosted was more mature and restrained than the “parent”.

At some point in your life you’ve seen, maybe not “seen it all” per se, but you’ve certainly seen enough to draw some conclusions about people and their weaknesses; and the desire to insert their opinions where they are not at all wanted is most certainly a weakness.  Indeed, it is a weakness so severe that in many cases it could be classified as an entry to “The Darwin Awards” where the gene pool is cleansed by the elimination of one more errant piece of random DNA.

People tend to want to know that their opinions are wanted, that their ideas have value.  They also want to feel superior to others in the sense that they feel smarter than others and at some point concluded that the only way for people to know that they are smarter is to simply jump the shark and leap right in there with their ideas and opinions.

Budo, and by extension the Bushi that follow the precepts, know that to insert oneself into a point in space and time that does not include them is to unnecessarily endanger themselves.  This is an important lesson in Budo and in becoming a Bushi.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX

July 2017


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

146. Join the Samurai Navy and See the World (recruiting 101)

When I started this blog years ago I promised to write about interesting, or intriguing, or strange things in Budo; things that hopefully make the reader cant their head to one side like a Pug and say, Huh?”  Things that make you stop and think for a second is my intent so here is today’s momentary descent into, “The Budo-verse”.

Back in the gym after two or three years of broken promises to myself and just pure outright laziness.  Promised my Head Hatamoto that we’d “do stuff” at the ‘doj and throw each other around so must get back into fighting trim.  Not all that easy at age 65 but it’s still there.  Just have to reach for it and do the work.

Worked out, had a “healthy breakfast” at the whole food shop inside the gym.  Pretty convenient and they had plenty of black coffee to boot with a go-cup.  My health club isn’t quite as nice as the old-world “Gentlemen’s Clubs” in London; you know, the ones where you do your workout, and then go to the lockers as your man-servant hands you a gin and tonic to cut the edge off those 1,000 sit-ups, and then you perambulate to the steam room as you waddle naked across the locker room, and the shower attendant hands you your fresh, hot, monogrammed towel and the green bar of English pine soap, while you admire your pumped, buffed, and waxed nakedness in the mirror.

No.  Not quite that nice but maybe one day …………..

So on the way into the office, the skies turned black with this weather front coming through with massive rain and spectacular lightening shows. Satellite radio went into a “fem-ale” mode with song after song (by Toni Braxton, Anita Baker, Norah Jones, Tina Turner ……. Old School kind of tunes) so it was a smooth drive in with ‘tunes, nice weather, hot coffee, and good traffic for a change.  Stress-less, not stress-free but close so the mind drifted into thinking about conversations I had heard around me that morning at the gym about people always wanting something from you and pushy salesmen (apparently this is a week for carnival barkers) and I remembered several occasions at the dojo where someone, ostensibly looking at training, actually wanted something other than Budo.  They wanted things but used “visiting the dojo” as the wedge to get into the door and to try to put me at ease for the “close”.

I sometimes think that the world outside the Budo-bubble or the Bushi-verse looks at a dojo as a means of recruitment for whatever they are hawking, selling, thinking, doing, or hallucinating about.  And sometime they can be pushy so a Sensei, who has the best interests of his deshi at heart (and who is concerned about the viability of the dojo as being a “way place of learning” and not just another pit stop on the road to mediocrity) has to be direct, sometimes to the point of rudeness and everyone once in a great while, threatening to do some serious bodily harm if they can’t figure out that they are simply not wanted.

Bwahahaha.  I’ve been an insurance broker and agent for about 20 years now and got my start as a professional telemarketer after I left commercial banking.  Even when I was in banking before going into insurance full-time back in ’97, the big corporate banking centers I worked at actually put us through classes in how to sell and close, to how profile the prospect, and how to gauge, evaluate and control different personality types either as a loan officer, a risk management officer or as a problem loan & liquidation officer (I was all three at times). 

I’m the last person in the world you want to try to manipulate for a sale of anything and everyone once in a while, I’ll just screw with them, just because ………………. “Sure, I’m interested.  Tell me more.  Tell me more.  But what if …… tell me more ………. But would you want your mother to do that?” ….. but, who developed this and did they make any money?” ….. Have fun with it and interrupt their sales script, which throws them off.  Then you get to watch them try to recover so you hit them again.

So …………….. the occasions that popped into my mind during the drive in that were the most unusual and that had the best set-up as in the carnival barker coming in, talking martial arts and then slowly and gently trying to slip the ‘shiv in were …………..

Fellow sends an email asking if he can visit and the email says that he lives and trains in another martial art here in Houston; but that a good friend of his, an Aikido Sensei from Europe is in town and wants to visit several dojo to see what Aikido in the US and Texas is like.  So I say sure, come in Saturday.  They both come in, sit and visit, ask questions about Tomiki Aikido and I explain how Tomiki set it up, how the curriculum works and mention that Tomiki Ryu has strong self-defense focus and a heavy flavor of Kodokan Judo with how we work the off-balance on the attacker and enter for the technique.  This was all information that I already knew the European Sensei didn’t know as he had never seen Tomiki Ryu before.

So during the conversation, the fellow that had sent the original email made mention (after I had to ask several times) finally ‘fessed up that he did another martial art that consisted of punching and kicking and some throws of various types and that he had students and was building a dojo here in Houston.  My thought was …. hmmm but I said nothing.  Then he asked if he could train.  I said no, that I don’t take visitors and that only active students could get on the mat, not visitors, not people who weren’t already Aikido Players, and esp. not visitors from other styles who would be there only that class period.  His response was, “Oh, a cynic”.  Strange I thought, but knew immediately that he wanted to try his art against Aikido; something I had no interest in.  Last time someone talked that game I told them that I’d ask one of the police officers in the class to come over and convince them of the error of their ways.  Then as a test, I turned to the Aikido Sensei from Europe and asked him a simple question; to wit, can you see the Daito Ryu, self-defense, Judo influences. He got a sorta’ funny look on his face and said, “YES. I can really see the Judo influence”. I couldn’t tell if he was surprised at the techniques or what.

So, while they were both pretty courteous and not rude and not outright challenging, I interpreted it as checking out the competition by using the European as the excuse.  Then, the very next day, I received an email from the visitor that he had emailed my senior Hatamoto to visit his dojo; an effort at recruitment as I interpreted it.  So the entire email, visit, conversation was, bottom line, an effort at recruitment as I had several people who had experience in what he was teaching and he must have thought that he could interest them in visiting/joining his school.  No biggie to me.  I only want deshi that are interested in our program anyway.

The strangest attempt at recruitment however was the night a stranger walked in unbidden with no advance notice.  He had a strange aura about him and seemed a little distant but curious.  We talked and he said that he did some martial arts informally (my first thought was “Oh Gawd. Another guy working out with his brother-in-law in the garage by reading books and watching You Tube”).  It turned out that he was claiming to be one of the few individuals in the country who knew “Viking Martial Arts”. 

Bwahaha.  Hokay then.  Thor’s Hammer Ryu.  This must be a joke.  Nope.  Not a joke.  So after prodding him as to what he was looking for he stated that he wanted to learn Aikido and grappling to improve his Thor Ryu.  Then I made the error of asking him what he did for a living.

And for the first time I about fell off my stool.  He ran a sex-club where everyone traded spouses and they had bondage rooms where the audience watched and had martini’s and bacon wrapped shrimp as someone was tied up and …… er …… ah ….. “abused substantially” as the cameras rolled.  So after sagely remaining silent for a minute or two, I just had to ask.  “So.  Thor.  How do you find clients? customers? mattress divers? WTH do you call them?”  He didn’t think that was very funny but interesting enough, his expression never really changed so that told me that he’d done this before.  His response was, “We have to be discreet.  We just offer that we do this and then allow people to approach us and join. We love to have visitors to the club to see what we offer”.

Didn’t take too long to figure out that I was being invited over and by extension, the entire dojo.  Well I thought, nothing like trying to join a martial arts dojo with 50 or 60 people who are physically active and in good shape so-as to have a fresh batch of recruits because he was overweight and didn’t look to me like much of catch for a discerning female with life choices available to her.

So he left and the next morning I went on line and looked up his sex club.  Sure enough.  There it was, less than a couple miles away from the dojo in the back of an unmarked strip center and Google Earth showed blacked out windows with no sign, only the suite number.  His photo was there on the website along with a bunch of other people and the site had photos of the “mattress room” (wall to wall), the bar (lots of interestingly clothed & unclothed bartenders in the photo, "Ah ... say there partner .... what are you stirring my drink with?"), the bondage room (no people in this one but the ladder, handcuffs and pole in the middle of the room with chains were included).  And, lo’ and behold, a group photo of people at the beach at Galveston, wearing Viking clothes and horned (horny?) helmets and carrying wooden shields and swords at what was noted as being a “Viking Wedding”.

So, if you run a dojo, then keep some things in mind. 

At some point, at some time, and one day, you very likely will find yourself dealing with these people.  Keep in mind that these are the extreme examples.  Door to door protein or internet ISP salesmen are a dime a dozen.  These were the ones that were good at what they do.  They are the ones that you have to watch for.  Don’t let them in no matter how badly you need new deshi.  Lying down with snakes never has a good result and if you feel guilty somehow about saying no, then remember the story about the frog and the scorpion.  Otherwise, you may lookup and find deshi quitting the dojo because they came to learn martial arts from you, not be recruited by Thor the Viking Sex ‘Perv. 

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

March 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.


L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

March 2017

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

June 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

June 2012

106. Hey Man ... That's My Grass You're After

Ah Springtime.  Time to trim the roses and engage in a uniquely suburban ritual known as "The Laying Of The Sod".

After two harsh Houston winters in a row with a couple of summers of the alien invasion of  (key ominous backgroud music) "THE CINCH BUGS FROM THE 19TH DIMENSION" that ate up big chunks of my yard, it was time here recently to put down new grass, to "re-sod".  AAA SOD LAY
So like the dutiful suburban animal that I am I reluctantly gretfully put down my cigar and my cold Corona and headed over to the local "Plants R' Us" store for some plants, top soil and a little greenery. 

I climb out of my big momma SUV Assault Vehicle and yell, "Bring me a Shrubbery!" AAA SHRUBBERY  being careful of course to avoid the triffids and the killler rabbits lurking outside the fence.

Well, not really.  I just picked up a few things, paid out and then drove over to get in line for the big stuff.

While waiting in a long line of Suburban Assault Vehicles for my turn a man walked up and asked if I was getting grass.  I restrained myself from making bad hippie jokes about how far out the Maui Wowie was today and said I was at this moment picking up topsoil before I did the grass thing.  He said thanks and walked away. 

In front of me tho' was a woman who was buying enough sod to re-do a football stadium (or graze a large herd of llama's).  The guy who had asked me what I was buying was told by the loader to drive ahead of the woman and I to the next station, where they could load his sod.  The woman, at the first station in front of me, had by that time taken all the sod so she motored herself up to the second station and lo' and behold ...... found the guy already in line ahead of her and they were ...... GASP ...... LOADING HER SOD IN THE BACK OF HIS PICKUP TRUCK. 


My reaction in watching this developing drama was to immediately turn down the CD player and roll down the window so-as to not miss one juicycomment made by either participant.  And boy ... did it get juicy .... and loud ..... and animated.  I've haven't heard such language out of a woman since buying a beer at the Brass Monkey on Saturday night full moon payday when I was in college and the oil field workers were in town off the drilling rigs and bumping shoulders with the Marine carrier pilots from the Navy base and someone stiffed the waitress for her tip and walked the ticket.

Suddenly this paragon of suburban pulchritude is waving both of her hands in the air.  Oh I thought.  She wants to be friends with the nice gentlemen.  The he waves both of his hands in the air the same way.  Oh I thought.  How nice that they both speak the same sign language.  ;-)

Well long drama short.  He got his grass and she got hers and it didn't come to fisticuffs (although I know that many of hte spectators, including yours truly, where sorta hopin' for a new event to enter into the WWF complete with sod pallets and all).

Now, you ask, why is Sensei writing about this?

Simply speaking ........ the woman came very close to committing suicide. 

If that had been anywhere other than broad daylight and in an upscale area of Houston and if the man she was yelling at had been, oh shall we say, a little "coarser" around the edges then she very well could have talked herself into an assault with some big-time battery thrown in for fun.  Nothing like exploring the ER benfits on that new medical insurance plan you bought last week.

My dad always said to pick your fights and be smart about where you are because you never know who could be behind you and who might be friends with the guy you're yelling at.  My old Sensei was fond of saying "Never pick on an old man until you know what kind of young man he was".

Zanshin is not just looking at uke after you throw him down in class.  It's also knowing where you are and what your shortcomings are and what their strong suits are.  A fat woman in an SUV yelling and flipping the bird at a guy who looked like a tackle for Texas A&M and who had done nothing wrong other than to follow the directions given him by the sod loaders and nursery attendants is not very smart.  He would have been justified in putting his head in her car and having a very direct conversation with her ........ but he didn't and actually showed some smart self-control and ignored her attempts to become the lead character out of The Taming of the Shrew.

Morals to follow in your life ............................

Don't let your mouth overload your butt. 

Know where you are and do not program yourself to automatically fly off the handle at every little insignificant provocation that comes your way. 

Pick your place. 

Understand the circumstances. 

Use good judgement and some discretion in how you react, what you say and what threats you voice and direct at others.

You just might avoid stepping off into someplace that you really don't want to be.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

April 2011